Truth-In-Sentencing Laws Exposed

Wisconsin has one of the strictest "truth in sentencing laws" in the nation. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is running a series on them, exposing them for what they are: brutally unfair and extravagently expensive. They also remove incentives and cause untold desperation in prisoners.

A state law that gives criminals virtually no chance for early release will cost Wisconsin taxpayers an estimated $1.8 billion for inmates admitted through 2025 if current trends continue, a Journal Sentinel analysis of prison and court records has found. Wisconsin implemented one of the nation's toughest truth-in-sentencing laws four years ago without ever assessing the cost. Today, thousands of inmates are on waiting lists for prison jobs, education and treatment programs. Wardens report more bad conduct and hopelessness among offenders.

....For crimes that occur on or after Dec. 31, 1999, the law requires offenders to serve every day of their sentences. It eliminates time off for good behavior and adds prison time for bad behavior. Judges must tack on a term of extended supervision equal to at least 25% of the prison time.

Most "truth in sentencing laws" require inmates to do 85% of their time. Not Wisconsin. It's 100%. Not only that, it applies to both violent offenders and non-violent property and drug offenders. It eliminates the role of the parole board. And there is no guideline system requiring judges to sentence in a particular range.

When truth in sentencing sailed through the Legislature in 1998....Supporters hailed the law as a more honest system that would put judges - not the parole board - in charge of how much time offenders would spend in prison and then under extended supervision, formerly known as parole. Crime victims would know exactly how long the criminal would be behind bars.

Critics warned it would be a budget disaster for taxpayers and would not make communities safer without additional prison treatment and community supervision dollars. No additional money was appropriated by the Legislature for the new law.

The actual cost:

The annual cost will exceed $50 million by 2010, the estimates show, and the cumulative cost will approach $576 million in 2014 as more inmates enter the system.

With laws like these, it's no wonder that 1 in every 75 men in America are in prison.

The prison system just grows like a weed in the yard," said Vincent Schiraldi, executive director of the Justice Policy Institute, which pushes for a more lenient system. Without reforms, he said, prison populations will continue to grow "almost as if they are on autopilot, regardless of their high costs and disappointing crime-control impact."

America. Prison nation.

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