Monday, December 3, 2012

Faith-base group looks to cut Wisconsin incarceration rate in half

California-based Human Impact Partners, has recommended that Wisconsin increase funding for its existing treatment alternative programs from about $1 million to $75 million annually, expand eligibility, and add $20 million for mental health treatment, jobs programs and other, related services, reported the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

"There's every reason in the world to see that alternatives to incarceration work, especially for people whose primary issue is addiction or a mental health issue," David Liners of the faith-based advocacy group WISDOM told the Journal Sentinel.  The group's Campaign for Justice aims to cut the state's prison population in half to 11,000 by 2015.

WISDOM, which sees the state's incarceration rates as a moral and social justice issue, commissioned the study with a $200,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The faith-based coalition of social justice groups is working on legislation for the 2013-'15 biennium modeled after a 1973 Minnesota law that stressed community treatment over incarceration for low-level offenders.

Such measures have historically been a tough sell in Wisconsin, where the Legislature passed the truth-in-sentencing law in 1999 and last year rescinded a program that released prisoners early for good behavior or health reasons, reported the Journal Sentinel.

Wisconsin incarcerates more than 22,000 people a year, up from about 7,000 in 1990 and more than double the number imprisoned in Minnesota, according to the Department of Corrections. And it has another 67,000 ex-offenders on probation and parole. The corrections budget has ballooned since 1990 from under $200 million a year to $1.3 billion in 2011, now surpassing the money spent on the University of Wisconsin system.

The prison population is disproportionately African-American: 51% compared with 6% of the general population.

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