When it comes to prisons, can Wisconsin learn from Minnesota, or even Texas? That's what a bipartisan committee on Justice Reinvestment Oversight is charged with finding out.
Committee Chair, state Senator Lena Taylor of Milwaukee, says it's obvious something has to be done to address Wisconsin's high rate of recidivism. "When people are not prepared to re-enter into society . . . creating an entire class or group of people who can't contribute . . . we all lose out," says Taylor. Formation of the commitee was announced this week by the Joint Legislative Council , with Oconomowoc Republican, Representative Joel Kleefisch serving as Vice Chair.
The committee will review criminal justice data to develop options that can then be taken up by the legislature. Taylor says the her goals are to save "human capitol" as well as tax dollars. She cites the experience in Texas, where the state saved $200 million and didn't have to build two new prisons, as an example of what can be achieved. "If we can do part of what they've done in Texas . . . I'm on fire for what we can do in this state."
Taylor commented on the frequent comparisons between corrections in Wisconsin and Minnesota, a state with a similar population and demographics but a smaller prison population. "We probabley end up doing some things similar to Minnesota," she says. "But what I'm determined to do is see us rethink how we are presently doing things. We can't continue to spend like this. We can't continue to lose human capitol and have recidivism rates as high as they are."
The committee will receive technical assistance from the Council on State Governments Justice Center, a national nonprofit group that receives funding from the U.S. Department of Justice.