By Gretchen Schuldt
A Republican bill that would send thousands of people on community supervision to prison would cost the state up to $1 billion to build two prisons to house the increased population and $171 million a year in increased operating costs, according to a fiscal estimate from the Department of Corrections.
The bill, Senate Bill 188, would require DOC to recommend revoking a person's extended supervision, parole, or probation if the person is charged with a crime while on release.
DOC estimated that there would be an additional 6,280 revocation cases per year and 47%, or 2,952, of the recommendations would be ratified by the Department of Administration's Division of Hearings and Appeals, which reviews and decides such cases.
If each additional revocation resulted in an additional 19 months in prison, the average daily prison population would jump by 4,673.
The Hearings and Appeals Division now affirms about 87% of revocation recommendations and the average time served for those is 39 months. DOC said it is likely that a smaller percentage of revocation recommendations would be affirmed if the agency must try to revoke everyone accused of a crime. DOC said it now uses several factors to determine whether revocation is appropriate.
Bills similar to SB188 have been introduced in the past.
"I look forward to defeating this bill for a fourth time," said State Rep. Evan Goyke (D-Milwaukee), a leading legislative proponent of criminal justice reform.
Oshkosh Correctional Institution housed a daily average of 2,035 inmates in 2020, DOC said in its estimate. DOC would need two additional prisons of about that size to house the increased population.
"It is estimated that the cost to construct one new 2,000 bed medium security correctional institution would be approximately $450 million to $550 million," the agency said.
The Badger State Sheriff's Association, in testimony last month before the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, said the bill would hit local jail budgets as well.
"This means 6,280 more individuals will be occupying county jails without reimbursement from DOC," the association said. "Essentially, this bill is an unfunded mandate to Wisconsin county jails."
And DOC Secretary Kevin Carr, testifying against the bill, said that prison populations declined during the pandemic.
"That number will be increasing back to pre-pandemic levels without legislative change," he said. "There are serious and immediate safety consequences within existing DOC facilities if any legislation increases the incarceration rate."
The State Public Defender's Office said the proposed process raised constitutional concerns.
"And while the administrative law judge would still retain discretion under the bill whether or not to revoke supervision...this bill will lead to prison sentences that are grossly disproportionate to the alleged criminal activity," SPD said.
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