Of all the distortion that has been put out there about the earned-release program that Jim Doyle signed into law two years ago, Rep. Scott Suder is guilty of the biggest lies. This one was one of his worst:
"We know the problem and we know the solution. Let's act today and stop the murderers, habitual drunk drivers, identity thieves, burglars, drug dealers, and other dangerous criminals from getting their 'get out of jail free cards'."
Last time I wasted my time playing Monopoly, a "get out of jail free card" prevented you from going to jail altogether. It didn't set up a series of tasks for you to complete before you get out of jail. It didn't make you learn some lessons and improve your character. If it did, then Suder would be correct in labeling the earned-release policy thus.
Actually, if there is anybody who supports a Monopoly-type prison policy, it is Suder. It is Suder who believes that prison should be a place where you simply wait as the other players continue, where you wait and think about what you do when you leave, and where no work is required to get out.
Another time, Suder referred to earned-release as "rewarding bad behavior," which is also how he labeled a proposal to restore felons with voting rights upon release from prison. In Suder's defense, he referred to voting as a "privilege," not a right, which seems to indicate we are not debating the same concept. Traditionally, a prison is a place where criminals learn to become productive community members and citizens, whereas in Suder's system, prison is just one part of a lifelong punishment.
If we choose to go with Suder's system of lifelong punishment, we might as well imprison felons for life, no matter what their crime. What's the point of letting offenders back on to the street if prison is nothing more than criminal camp, where society's rejects cavort, reinforce their social isolation and learn to become better criminals?
It's frustrating to see Wisconsin take a step backwards in criminal justice. Neither crime rates or recidivism rates have changed since we introduced Truth In Sentencing in 1999. What has changed is the massive increase in spending on prisons and, in recent years, the massive cuts in funding to K-12 education, higher education and other social programs that keep people out of jail.
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