The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act would be an important first step in reforming our unjust federal punishment system. However, numerous politicians, including Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, still oppose this bill that would reduce several mandatory minimum sentences, reduce racial disparities in incarceration and expand rehabilitation programs for currently incarcerated people.
Wisconsin’s senators have not signed on as co-sponsors of the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act yet. Sen. Tammy Baldwin supports the bill, but she is waiting for another Republican to sign on before she co-sponsors it. Sen. Ron Johnson has not yet taken a position on this proposal.
The U.S. Congressional Budget Office estimates that this bill would save taxpayers more than $700 million over the next 10 years. The federal government could instead spend this money on strengthening neighborhoods in Milwaukee and throughout the country that have been disproportionately impacted by mass imprisonment.
Federal legislators are making little progress on justice system reform, but they are doing better than policymakers in Wisconsin. In June 2015, Gov. Scott Walker said that the “challenges in terms of people being incarcerated for relatively low offenses is not a significant issue in the state of Wisconsin.” Actually, it is a huge problem.
The first step to solving a problem is admitting you have one. It is time for Clarke, Johnson and Walker to acknowledge that mass incarceration has devastated neighborhoods here in Milwaukee and across the country. Walker must face the fact that crimeless revocation (the practice of re-incarcerating individuals on probation, parole, or extended supervision for minor rule violations) is more than significant. It is a failed policy, a waste of money and an embarrassment to Wisconsin.
Several states have shown that they can decrease levels of incarceration without compromising public safety. Two studies demonstrate that recent policy changes that resulted in the release of nearly 30,000 people from prisons in California did not cause increases in crime. Policy reforms there included greatly reducing the use of incarceration for crimeless revocations and enabling some people with convictions for violent crimes to be eligible for parole. Thirty states cut both rates of imprisonment and crime from 2008 to 2013.