Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle’s budget plan to shorten the prison terms of up to 1,000 convicts could save as much as $27 million over two years, says the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “I can’t emphasize enough that we believe we can do this safely,” Corrections Secretary Rick Raemisch said. “We’re not opening the back door and saying it’s time to leave.” Republicans are critical. “He is letting people off of sentences that they were given by a jury and judge,” said Rep. Scott Suder. “And worse yet, he is letting unelected bureaucrats – not judges and juries – make those decisions.”
Under the plan, low-risk offenders could shave off up to a third of their sentences for good behavior. The move would save money and reduce recidivism, Raemisch said. He said most inmates would be released eventually, and the state should focus on helping make sure they don’t commit future crimes. “Budget aside, it’s the right thing to do,” Raemisch said. The budget would also invest $6.5 million in treatment, job training and education, which Raemisch said are essential to ensuring offenders don’t commit future crimes. About 3,000 of the state’s 22,000 inmates would be eligible for the program. Charles Franklin, a University of Wisconsin-Madison political scientist, said Doyle’s proposal is politically risky, noting that Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis’ 1988 presidential campaign was torpedoed in part by a prison furlough program. Doyle’s political career could end if one released inmate commits a heinous crime, he said. “Politicians have paid a high price for those statistically very rare cases,” Franklin said. “They’re political poison.” Doyle also wants to change how the state monitors some sex offenders with devices linked to global positioning satellites. The state began lifetime tracking of sex predators and child sex offenders last year; 156 offenders are now being tracked. To save money, Doyle wants to change the law so information on lower-risk offenders is sent from the devices to the department once a day instead of continuously in real time.