Wisconsin’s Corrections Spending Higher Than Average, Report Finds

Analysis Finds State Policy Drives Up Prison Population, Costs

prison cell
meesh (CC BY 2.0)

Wisconsin spends more money per resident on corrections and incarcerations than any of its neighboring states.

The state spends $267 per resident on corrections by state and local governments, according to a new analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data by the left-leaning Wisconsin Budget Project.

The report said state and local government spending on corrections and incarceration in 2015 was $1.5 billion, about 12 percent higher than the national average.

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Analyst Tamarine Cornelius said Wisconsin law and policy emphasize incarceration over alternatives, which has led to a higher-than-average prison population.

“For our population size, we have more people in prison and jail than Michigan, Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota. In fact, for our population size, we lock up twice as many people as Minnesota does,” Cornelius said. “When we lock up that many people, we bear the costs associated with that.”

Among the highest costs Cornelius found in her analysis: reimprisoning individuals who violate parole or probation.

The analysis found Wisconsin spends about $140 million a year to return people with no new convictions to prison.

It also said the state could save more money by changing how it deals with low-level drug offenders.

“Some other states invest more in trying to find alternatives for those people, especially alternatives that focus more on treatment and mental health,” Cornelius said. “Wisconsin does some of that, but we could really invest more in that and save money.”

The analysis followed a Wisconsin State Journal report in which state Department of Corrections Secretary Jon Litscher told lawmakers the state’s prison population was growing and that prisons would need additional capacity in the next few years.

DOC officials did not respond to a request for comment about the Wisconsin Budget Project report.