Tommy Thompson was a helluva governor. Not only did he preside over a period of economic prosperity that provided millions of new private-sector jobs, but he added hundreds of thousands himself by spending on a variety of public goodies. Schools, universities, government administration, and, for the Republicans out there, a sure bet winner: Prisons.
Tommy, with the help of Republicans and Democrats alike, hiked up sentences for a number of offenses and, most importantly, signed "Truth in Sentencing" into law, which effectively abolished probation. Inmates would now be required to serve every day of their sentence.
The policy seems to have had little to no effect on crime. Sconnies are just as into shooting, stealing and fighting as ever. Furthermore, a policy that provides no incentive for inmates to behave or improve themselves is antithetical to the concept of rehabilitation.
A question for presidential candidates: If we are the greatest country on earth, why are more of our citizens in jail than in any other nation? Even China.
The rhetoric on prisons in Wisconsin is frustrating, not only because it generally embraces policies that have been disproven in the rest of the developed world, but because it excludes any discussion about what the proper sentence is for a crime. Similar to the debate over taxes and spending, the crime & punishment debate is all about cuts and increases instead of actual numbers. For instance: "John Smith voted to REDUCE prison sentences for violent offenders and drug traffickers." Or: "Prisoners are getting out of jail early because of John Smith."
The point those statements which are representative of the rhetoric of Scott Suder and Scott Walker on crime fail to make is how much jail time is appropriate for, say, a guy convicted of aggravated assault. If you're going to take discretion away from judges and mandate minimum sentences, then at least tell the voters what you think appropriate sentences should be.
Politicians across the political spectrum are starting to recognize that the approach of the 80's and 90's isn't working, and that the American system of justice amounts to a crime against humanity (if undemocratic practices in Gitmo weren't bad enough). Unfortunately, it doesn't look like Wisconsin is going to be leading the way in that fight anytime soon.
Although the Dems pushed through a modest and sensible early-release plan last session, Tom Barrett's demagogic ads against prisoners and Scott Walker's victory ensures that barbary will remain Wisconsin's preferred method of corrections for some time. (Another culprit is AFSCME leader Marty Beil, who ridiculed attempts to reduce sentences years ago, accusing Dems of taking money out of prisons to pay for "pampered professors.")
But until we get a better system, enjoy the jobs Republicans are protecting! Compared to say, universities, the Department of Corrections is doing just dandy in this year's budget.
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