While crime rates have gone down nationwide, prison populations have grown more than 400 percent in the last 30 years, leading some Wisconsin law enforcement officials to join a call for the U.S. Senate to enact changes to the criminal justice system.
On Wednesday, more than 70 law enforcement officials around the country penned a letter urging the Senate to pass the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015. The legislation would reduce penalties for repeat non-violent drug offenders.
Among the signatories were Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney and Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm. Chisholm said too many resources are spent on people who can't get the proper rehabilitation from jails.
"We're not particularly good at treating people while they're in prison, particularly treating a complex issue like mental illness," he said. "We fundamentally believe we have to take smarter approaches to identifying really risky people. Those are the people we want to safely remove from the community. We have an awful lot of people in our prisons for committing crimes, but also because they have overlying issues that need to be addressed."
Sign up for daily news!
Stay informed with WPR's email newsletter.
Supporters of the legislation say it would target limited resources on more serious criminals. Chisholm said if the bills pass, it would be a major step toward comprehensive prison reform.
"It's certainly a start. But it's going to require us as a nation to have these very difficult discussions about how we use that precious resource of jail and prison and who we use it for," he said.
The measure's sponsor is Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley.