The Republican proposal to toughen revocation rules for people under Department of Corrections supervision and to build a new prison to house the additional inmates snared by the new rules could be far more expensive than has been publicly discussed, according to records.
The measure was approved by the Assembly and is awaiting action by the State Senate. No Democrat voted for the proposal, although State Rep. Jason Fields (D-Milwaukee) did not cast a vote. Republican Adam Jarchow (R-Balsam Lake) voted against it, and David Murphy (R-Greenville) and Shannon Zimmerman (R-River Falls) did not vote.
The focus has been on one scenario presented by the DOC, which comes with an estimated price tag of $57 million per year in additional costs after tougher revocation rules would be fully implemented. But the department worked up other estimates that put possible costs far higher—up to $201 million more per year.
And while the Assembly version of the bill would authorize $350 million in borrowing, interest payments likely would add at least $100 million to that price tag and possibly much more, depending on the length of the financing and the interest rate.
Prison bonding cost scenarios
Finally, the proposal would financially burden counties, most of which would be forced to hold in local jails, at county expense, those recommended for revocation while they await their revocation hearings and decisions. That process could take at least 60 days. The increased costs could well translate into increased property taxes or, because of levy limits the state places on counties, reduced services in other areas.
"Essentially, this bill is an unfunded mandate to Wisconsin county jails," Iowa County Sheriff Steve Michek said in testimony prepared for the Assembly Committee on Corrections. Michek testified on an earlier version of the bill on behalf of the Badger State Sheriffs' Association and the Wisconsin Sheriffs and Deputy Sheriffs Association.
"There is a cost to this proposal and we ask that it be addressed before the bill advances further," he said.
The proposal, originally sponsored by State Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Brookfield), would require DOC to recommend revocation of supervision for anyone charged with a new violent misdemeanor or any felony. DOC estimates the bill would result in 2,135 new revocation recommendations per year.
In 2016, 92% of revocation recommendations were eventually affirmed, and the average length of subsequent imprisonment was 39 months, according to DOC.
If the share of additional revocation recommendations ultimately approved remains at the current 92%, the bill will cost an estimated $100.9 million to $201.4 million per year when it is fully implemented, depending on the average term of imprisonment.
If the approval rate for the additional recommendations falls to 72%, the bill will cost an estimated $79.1 million to $161.8 million; at a 52% revocation rate, it would cost $57.3 million to $117 million.
Gretchen Schuldt is executive director of the Wisconsin Justice Initiative.
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