Five myths about Americans in prison

In: Washington Post
By Marc Mauer and David Cole, Published: June 17

No country on Earth imprisons more people per capita than the United States. But for America, mass incarceration has proved a losing proposition. The Supreme Court recently found California’s overcrowded prisons unconstitutional, and state legislators want to cut the vast amounts of public money spent on prison warehousing.

Why are so many Americans in prison, and which ones can be safely released? Let’s address some common misunderstandings about our incarceration problem.

1. Crime has fallen because incarceration has risen.
U.S. crime rates are the lowest in 40 years, but it’s not clear how much of this drop is a result of locking up more people.

In Canada, for example, violent crime declined in the 1990s almost as much as it did in the United States. Yet, Canada’s prison population dropped during this time, and its per capita incarceration rate is about one-seventh that of the United States. Moreover, while U.S. incarceration rates have steadily risen for four decades, our crime rate has fluctuated — rising through the 1970s, falling and then rising in the 1980s, and falling since 1993.

Harvard University sociologist Bruce Western believes that increased incarceration accounts for only about 10 percent of the drop in crime rates; William Spelman, a professor of public affairs at the University of Texas, puts the figure at about 25 percent. Even if the higher figure is accurate, three-quarters of the crime decline had nothing to do with imprisonment. Other causes include changes in drug markets, policing strategies and community initiatives to reshape behavior.

2. The prison population is rising because more people are being sentenced to prison. In the 1980s and early 1990s, the number of people sent to prison grew mainly because of the war on drugs. The number of drug offenders sentenced to state prisons increased by more than 300 percent from 1985 to 1995.
Since then, however, longer prison terms more than new prison sentences have fueled the prison population expansion. These are a result of mandatory sentencing measures such as “three strikes” laws and limits on parole release. Today, 140,000 prisoners, or one of 11 inmates, are incarcerated for life, many with no chance of parole.

Longer stays in prison offer diminishing returns for public safety. As prisoners age, the likelihood that they will commit crimes drops, but the cost of their imprisonment rises, primarily because of increased medical care. Harsher sentences also offer little deterrence: When people consider committing crimes, they may think about whether they will be caught, but probably not about how harshly they will be punished. In 1999, the Institute of Criminology at Cambridge University reviewed studies of deterrence and sentencing and found no basis “for inferring that increasing the severity of sentences generally is capable of enhancing deterrent effects.”

3. Helping prisoners rejoin society will substantially reduce the prison population. Ninety-five percent of American prisoners will return home someday. While reentry programs can aid reintegration into the community, they do little to reduce our reliance on incarceration. Prison appears to make inmates as likely to commit crime as not; about half of released inmates return to prison within three years. Congress appropriated only $83 million for reentry in fiscal year 2011, or less than $120 per released prisoner. Even with additional state funds, one is not likely to overcome a lifetime of low educational attainment, substance abuse and/or mental health disabilities with this meager commitment.

Investing in prevention and treatment instead of imprisonment is more likely to shrink the prison population. The Washington State Institute for Public Policy, for example, found that home-based supervision of juvenile offenders produced $28 in taxpayer benefits for every dollar invested.
4. There’s a link between race and crime. Yes, African Americans and Latinos disproportionately commit certain crimes. But in a 1996 study of crime rates in Columbus, Ohio, criminologists from Ohio State University concluded that socioeconomic disadvantages “explain the overwhelming portion of the difference in crime.”

Nowhere are racial disparities in criminal justice more evident than in drug law enforcement. In 2003, black men were nearly 12 times more likely to be sent to prison for a drug offense than white men. Yet, national household surveys show that whites and African Americans use and sell drugs at roughly the same rates. African Americans, who are 12 percent of the population and about 14 percent of drug users, make up 34 percent of those arrested for drug offenses and 45 percent of those serving time for such offenses in state prisons. Why?

In large measure, because police find drugs where they look for them. Inner-city, open-air drug markets are easier to bust than those that operate out of suburban basements, and numerous studies show that minorities are stopped by police more often than whites. For example, a Center for Constitutional Rights study found that 87 percent of the 575,000 people stopped by the police in New York City in 2009 were African American or Latino.

5. Racial disparities in incarceration reflect police and judges’ racial prejudice.

Shocking instances of racism still come to light in the justice system. But racist cops and courts are not the primary reason for racial disparities in incarceration.

Consider increased penalties for drug offenses in school zones. Though not racially motivated, these laws disproportionately affect minorities, who more often live in densely populated urban areas with many nearby schools. In New Jersey, for example, 96 percent of people incarcerated under such laws in 2005 were African American or Latino. Judges didn’t necessarily want to sentence these defendants to more prison time than those convicted outside school zones, but under the law, they had to.

Where we spend money also contributes to the problem. The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 appropriated $9.7 billion for prisons and $13.6 billion for law enforcement, but only $6.1 billion for crime prevention. Politicians eager to be seen as tough on crime too often find ways to fund new prison cells, even though they know that minorities will predominantly fill them. This isn’t the fault of racist individuals. It’s the fault of a system that fails to take the promise of equality seriously.

The United States imprisons a larger proportion of its population than Russia or Belarus. Our incarceration rate is eight times that of France. These tragic statistics force us to ask: Would the American public accept these rates if incarceration were distributed more equally across race and class?

mauer@sentencingproject.org
cole@law.georgetown.edu

Marc Mauer is executive director of the Sentencing Project. David Cole is a professor at Georgetown University Law Center.

Want to challenge everything you know? Visit our “Five myths” archive.

Wisconsin’s prison population declines

From: Wisconsin Radio Network

by Andrew Beckett on December 23, 2010

in: Crime & Courts

It’s been getting a little less crowded in Wisconsin’s prisons. Department of Corrections Secretary Rick Raemisch says the number of inmates in state prisons was at about 22,000 at the end of fiscal year 2009, down nearly 1,800 over the past three years. The numbers reflect a three-percent drop in the population over the last five years.

Read the rest here.

Study of Arkansas prisons, costs being conducted

Associated Press – June 4, 2010 8:14 PM ET

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) – Gov. Mike Beebe says a study of Arkansas’ corrections system is being conducted to find a way to slow the growth in the state’s prison population and corrections costs.

Read more here

Mo. Senate backs plan to shrink prison population

April 15, 2010

Missouri senators narrowly approved legislation Thursday designed to save millions of dollars by keeping people convicted of minor felonies out of prison.

Money saved by putting fewer new people in prison would be split, with the state keeping half and the rest divided among the counties for holding prisoners, the courts and community supervision programs.

The Senate approved the bill 18-13, which is the minimum number of “yes” votes needed to pass legislation. The measure now goes to the House.

The bill would affect people convicted of the lowest category class D felonies, which include such things as possessing burglary tools, damaging property through explosions or fire and persistent drunken driving.

Those crimes currently carry punishments of up to four years in prison.

Under the bill, people convicted of Class D felonies would not be sent to prison unless they have two previous felonies. Instead, they would be directed to treatment programs such as special drug and drunken-driving courts, given probation or sent to county jails.

The legislation also would apply to some Class C felonies, which include such things as drug possession, forgery, check kiting and identify theft involving theft between $500 and $5,000. Those crimes currently carry penalties of up to seven years in prison.

Opponents of the legislation are concerned that some of the people who no longer would be eligible for prison actually belong there. One lawmaker cited the example of exposing oneself to a child, which is in the lowest category of felonies.

Supporters hope the bill will trim Missouri’s prison population by 2,000 people over the next two years and save $26 million by allowing a state prison to be closed. Falling state revenues have prompted lawmakers to scour for ways to cut spending. The idea of trimming prison populations was among those considered last month during an informal Senate discussion about ways to overhaul state government.

Other critics of the legislation are concerned about how the changes will affect counties.

“The smaller counties cannot absorb these extra prisoners,” said Sen. John Griesheimer, R-Washington. “I’m not sure what they’re going to do.”

Sen. Matt Bartle, the sponsor of the bill, said many of the least severe category of felonies are drug- or alcohol-related. He said Missouri can no longer afford to incarcerate all of the roughly 30,000 people that generally make up the state’s prison population.

The legislation “doesn’t mean these people don’t get jail time. It means they don’t get sent up with the hardened criminals,” said Bartle, R-Lee’s Summit.

By CHRIS BLANK
For link to article click Here

Wisconsin’s overcrowded prisons aren’t rehabilitating inmates

Want to lower the prison population? Don’t build more beds, build lives
Emily’s Post: Wisconsin’s overcrowded prisons aren’t rehabilitating inmates

Isthmus Daily Page

Emily Mills, 03/04/2010

A new report says that Wisconsin needs to spend $1.2 billion to upgrade its prison facilities, including adding 8,900 beds to help with overcrowding.

The prison population in our state is somewhere around 22,000. According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, “In 2008, over 7.3 million people were on probation, in jail or prison, or on parole at year-end–3.2% of all U.S. adult residents or 1 in every 31 adults.”

The U.S. has the highest documented incarceration rate in the world. Even taking into consideration those countries that don’t properly report the number of people it locks up, the numbers in America are staggering. Prison overpopulation has become a very real, very urgent problem in most states, so I can’t say that it’s a surprise to hear about it happening right here in Wisconsin.
That it’s not unexpected, however, doesn’t make it any less appalling.

The problem, of course, is that this is a complicated problem with a dizzying array of contributing factors. And everyone has a different opinion about how to best go about solving it. Some folks who fancy themselves real hard asses like to talk about privatizing the prison system to reduce costs, as well as throwing the biggest book at even the most non-violent of offenders. Others fall on the exact opposite end of the spectrum.

Me? I land somewhere decidedly in the middle. I think we put too many people in jail, and I think we operate our jails too much like points-of-no-return as opposed to the houses of reform they were supposed to be.

In terms of population, this is definitely a case where less is more.
The fact that some one million inmates are in for non-violent offenses, too, offends me. Simply having the bad fortune of living with or visiting someone involved in the drug trade can be enough to put you behind bars for the better part of your life. It just doesn’t make sense. Don’t believe me? Read a few of the personal stories listed on the Families Against Mandatory Minimums website.

Our sentencing rules need serious reform. So do our attitudes about things like marijuana, as well as toward addiction in general. Throwing people with a disease, or a relatively harmless plant, into jail is both unjust and wasteful. Taking a long, hard look at our sentencing policies would likely go a long way toward putting a dent in our bloated prison population.

What might also help is a solid early release program for non-violent offenders who do deserve some jail time. Gov. Doyle attempted to do that when he passed Wisconsin Act 28 as part of last year’s budget. The provision was ostensibly supposed to create a system of early-release in order to help stem the increases in inmate population we’ve been seeing in recent years.
And while it does end the double-bunking policy that has caused so much trouble (a good move), it still misses the mark. The problem with the act was that it attempted the early release policy without much structure or forethought.

As pointed out at the time by Zachary Wisniewski at Blogging Blue, the types of offenses now eligible for early release simply don’t make sense:
…under the new early release provisions, an individual convicted of aggravated battery to an unborn child is statutorily eligible to earn early release from prison as well as an early discharge from extended supervision once released from prison, while an individual convicted of a nonviolent offense such as misconduct in public office is not eligible for early release from prison or an early discharge from extended supervision. Now don’t get me wrong – I’m not arguing misconduct in public office – or any other felony, for that matter – aren’t serious offenses, but they’re certainly not as seriously assaultive as a crime like aggravated battery to an unborn child.

There’s a full list of the other offenses that fall under the new early release program at the same post linked above. They include things like stalking, false imprisonment, and physical abuse of a child. Those are decidedly not non-violent offenses and I have no idea how they ended up on this list.

But say we did (eventually) get the early-release program right. That’s not enough. We need to couple that with comprehensive rehabilitation and reentry programs that help people returning to society with things like education, job preparedness, finding a place to live, etc. Just turning people out onto the streets does little to nothing to prevent recidivism—which, after all, is supposed to be the point of putting people in jail for less than a life sentence.
Thankfully, there are such programs in place in many of our state’s detention facilities: everything from a successful MATC accredited horticultural program to high school equivalency programs and even a prison library program.

Kyle Nabilcy, a prison librarian, has witnessed the success of the program first-hand. “Anecdotally,” he notes, “I can tell you that very few of the men who have worked for me as inmate clerks have returned to a similar or higher security level of incarceration, or reoffended. I can only think of two out of probably 30-35 in almost seven years.”

Nabilcy also went on to suggest a different use for any state funds earmarked for prisons. “I would love to see some of that money going into improving the technological infrastructure of DOC. More and more of the educational programs are digital, and our resources are getting more and more out of date every day.”

Once again, prevention and education seem to be the most important tools for fixing the problem.

Progressive Wisconsin? State Marked by Empty Factories, Full Prisons

From: In These Times
April 5, 2010

State has highest black male incarceration rate in country; twelve times the rate of white men.
By Roger Bybee

Wisconsin has long enjoyed a reputation as an enlightened, progressive state.

Its reputation goes back to the populist flavor of the state constitution, the strong movement for the abolition of slavery, the staunchly anti-corporate governor (and later senator) “Fighting Bob” LaFollette, the building of powerful labor and socialist movements, and one of the nation’s very best university systems.

But a visit to my hometown of Racine for a meeting this week was a painful reminder of how the city and state are moving toward a very different model of society: the mass destruction of family-supporting jobs coupled with the mass incarceration of thousands of young men who grew up in deprived, disorganized neighborhoods shattered by de-industrialization.

GHOSTLY FACTORIES—AND A MASSIVE NEW JAIL

Unemployment in Racine is now 16.7%, reflecting both the toll of the Great Recession and the permanent loss of about 13,500 manufacturing jobs between 1979 and 2007, 42% of the city’s industrial jobs. My hometown is filled with ghostly empty factories and vast empty, flat fields of brown grass where factories once turned out tractors, garden equipment, children’s Golden Books, machine tools, auto parts, farm machinery, and on and on.

In industrial towns like Racine, factories have been emptied out, with no family-supporting jobs to replace them. Meanwhile a flock of new prisons and jails have been filled up, providing jobs for some ex-factory workers and a cell for others.

Racine has a new $30 million jail that holds about six times as many prisoners as the one it replaced, which was completed only in 1980. A juvenile corrections facility now sits where the Rainfair clothing factory stood before its new owners sent the jobs to China.

PRISON POPULATION INCREASES NEARLY EIGHT-FOLD

With the path to legitimate success blocked for so many, it is only predictable that a certain percentage of young men, in particular, would be drawn to criminal activity. But unlike Wisconsin’s neighbor, Minnesota, which has only about one-third the number of prisoners despite roughly similar demographics and population, Wisconsin has not developed a major system of non-prison alternatives to help young men complete their educations, obtain training and jobs, and find a non-criminal path for their lives.

Statewide, the prison population has exploded from 2,973 in 1970 to 23,112 at the end of last year, representing nearly an eight-fold increase.

A sizable portion of these prisoners come from six counties which have all suffered devastating losses in industrial jobs: Milwaukee, Dane, Racine, Kenosha, Rock and Waukesha. The city of Milwaukee lost 65% of its industrial jobs between 1977 and 2002, with leading local corporations like Johnson Controls, Master Lock and AO Smith coming to employ more workers in Mexico than Milwaukee. In Rock County, Janesville—which lost its huge General Motors assembly plant at the end of 2008—has an official unemployment rate of 13.1% and nearby Beloit has the state’s highest jobless rate of 18.3%.
Wisconsin carries the dubious distinction of having the highest rate of African-American male incarceration of any state in the nation. African Americans are incarcerated at 12 times the rate of whites.
At every point in the downward slide toward prison, African-Americans find less favorable treatment than whites.

The cost of the state’s vast expansion of prisons and jails has meant a major drain on the revenues that once supported Wisconsin’s excellent university system, forcing a quadrupling of tuition over the last 20 years, according to Jay Burseth, president of the UW-Milwaukee Students Association. It has also triggered increasingly sharp struggles by UW students to hold down tuition, as covered last month in these pages.

As economist Michael Rosen has pointed out, the link between rising prison expenditures and declining educational opportunities is clear-cut. Even while crime has been declining, the number of prisoners kept climbing:

Between 1987 and 2007, Wisconsin actually cut its support for higher education by 6%. Only 6 states reduced their investment in higher ed by more. During the same period, Wisconsin increased corrections spending by 251%, 8th highest nation, despite a declining crime rate.

MORE PRISON SPENDING MEANS HIGHER TUITON, LESS ACCESS

Ironically, the cost of incarcerating of mostly poor young men has directly and a severely reduced the opportunities for young people to stay out of trouble, get a good education and lead a productive life. The diversion of state funds from colleges and technical schools to the prison system has forced a much heavier burden of tuition on those who would like to attend college.

Rosen notes the conclusions of a study committee composed of representatives of Wisconsin’s university system and technical colleges: “Wisconsin students from lower income families have less access to a college education than in the U.S. as a whole.”

According to Prof. Pam Oliver of UW-Madison, a leading scholar who has done extensive research on the metastazing of Wisconsin’s prison population, there has not yet been any systematic, full-scale study of the relationship between de-industrialization and the huge explosion in incarceration in Wisconsin.
But this linkage between the community devastation represented by the state’s vacant factories and the crowded jails and prisons now seems brutally clear. The connection stands as a major indictment of the shameful economic and social policies shaped by major corporations’ decisions and the policy choices of government officials unwilling to challenge corporate power.

http://www.inthesetimes.com/working/entr/5774/progressive_wisconsin_state_m arked_by_empty_factories_full_prisons

Prison population dropped in 2009


From the Pew Center’s latest Report:

For the first time in nearly 40 years, the number of state prisoners in the United States has declined, according to Prison Count 2010,” a new survey by the Pew Center on the States. As of January 2010, there were 1,403,091 persons under the jurisdiction of state prison authorities, 5,739 fewer than on December 31, 2008.

This marks the first year-to-year drop in the nation’s state prison population since 1972. While the study showed an overall decline, it revealed great variation among jurisdictions. The prison population declined in 27 states, while increasing in 23 states and in the federal system.

In the past few years, several states have enacted reforms designed to get taxpayers a better return on their public safety dollars. These strategies included:

• Diverting low-level offenders and probation and parole violators from prison
• Strengthening community supervision and re-entry programs
• Accelerating the release of low-risk inmates who complete risk reduction programs

Report in PDF

From: RGJ
By Martha Bellisle
March 17, 2010

The number of inmates in state prisons across the country, including in Nevada, dropped last year for the first time in about 40 years, according to a new survey by the Pew Center on the States.

Nevada had 12,743 inmates on Dec. 31, 2008, and 12,539 on Jan. 1, 2010, a drop of 1.6percent, the survey found.

The number of male inmates increased slightly since January, said Rex Reed, administrator of the offender management division of the Nevada Department of Corrections. But the number of female inmates dropped by about 30, he said.

Nationwide, inmate populations in state facilities dropped by .4 percent since 1972, the Pew study found, after increasing by 705 percent between 1972 and 2008.

Pew officials said the changes reflect policy changes across the states.

In Nevada, lawmakers made numerous changes in 2007 that allowed some inmates to receive “good-time” credits for education and substance abuse treatment to shorten their terms.

The changes and the reduction in population saved Nevada $38 million, the Pew study found, and helped avoid $1.2 billion in prison construction costs.

Here another article about the drop in prisoners from Stateline.

Democrats want to reduce state’s prison population

Madison Capital Times: Democrats want to reduce state’s prison population

Democrats seeking to reduce Wisconsin’s prison population are reintroducing a batch of bills vetoed by Gov. Jim Doyle this summer. This is a picture of an inmate at a prison in Arizona, which is considering turning over its prisons to private companies. MATT YORK | Associated Press

This summer, Gov. Jim Doyle made a controversial decision to roll back truth-in-sentencing legislation and let up to 3,000 nonviolent inmates out of prison early to save the state the $29,000 or so it cost to house each of them every year. Fellow Democrats in the Legislature hoped that Doyle would also sign into law measures they introduced to further chip away at the state’s burgeoning prison population, but Doyle vetoed many of them.

Now Democrats are re-introducing those measures. It’s unlikely that they will pass as written, but legislators hope they will provide a starting point to keep the debate going, possibly through several legislative sessions. Doyle, after all, has decided not to run for re-election and will only be in office for another year.

“Obviously because these specific proposals were vetoed, we’re going to have to work with everyone to fashion policies that we can move through the Legislature and have enacted,” says Rep. Joe Parisi, D-Madison, chairman of the Assembly corrections committee.

The measures, introduced in both the Senate and the Assembly, are intended to keep inmates from landing back in prison after they have served their prison sentences but while they remain on extended supervision, which has become a key contributor to the prison population explosion. One provision would cap at 90 days the amount of time an offender would spend in prison for rule violations that don’t constitute a new crime.

According to a study by the Justice Center of the Council on State Governments, a nonpartisan Kentucky-based association, the average stay for such violations in 2007 was 18 months, costing the state $99 million that year.

The Justice Center, which has successfully helped other states, including Kansas and Texas, reduce prison populations, made several other recommendations that Democrats included in the 2009-11 budget. But Doyle vetoed those, saying Department of Corrections officials need a free hand to determine who should get out of prison.

The proposals would have limited the time offenders spend on extended supervision to 75 percent of the time they spend behind bars, required the Department of Corrections to reduce recidivism by 25 percent by 2011 and expanded community-based mental health and job placement services.

While Doyle allowed $10 million for community-based services, Democratic lawmakers wanted $20 million more — $8 million to bolster mental health services for severely mentally ill offenders on parole or extended supervision, and $12 million for transitional employment programs — as another means to keep offenders who have been released from re-offending.

“We have to break the cycle of people being released into the community and being unsuccessful and landing back in our prison,” Parisi says. “That’s the main driver of our prison population right now.”

Truth-in-sentencing legislation in 1999 abolished parole and replaced it with extended supervision, making it mandatory for inmates to serve out their entire sentences. Since then, the prison population has grown by 14 percent to about 22,500 and is projected to climb another 25 percent by 2019 if nothing is done to stop it. The further increase is expected to cost the state $2.5 billion in construction and operating costs.

Some Republicans howled at Doyle’s decision to let nonviolent offenders out of prison before reaching the end of their jail terms, but one key lawmaker says such measures were inevitable.

“At the time truth-in-sentencing was passed, and I voted for it, most knowledgeable people felt that there would be some follow-up legislation to prevent that bill from becoming too expensive,” says state Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, the ranking Republican on the Senate corrections committee.

He says he doesn’t go along with law-and-order Republicans who oppose letting anyone out of prison before their sentences are served. And he says Doyle’s move will allow the Department of Corrections to hold the line on the prison population, but do little to reduce it.

“Something should be done,” Grothman says.

But he doesn’t support proposals that would cost more money. For instance, he says, while inmates with jobs are less likely to re-offend, the $20 million for community-based services is unnecessary. The Department of Corrections, he says, already has enough employees to provide those services now.

“I’m sure Doyle did the right thing in vetoing them,” he says of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative proposals. “Obviously we’re broke.”

The Justice Reinvestment Initiative proposals aren’t the only pending legislation that deal with inmates.
Another Assembly bill would allow felons who have been released from prison to vote while they remain on extended supervision. Currently offenders are barred from voting until they have served out their entire sentence.

Parisi says the measure would save money by eliminating the felon lists that poll workers have to use to verify voter eligibility and also reduce lines on Election Day by making the polling process less complicated.
In addition, he says, studies have shown that former inmates who are allowed to vote tend to be less likely to re-offend.

And there’s also a racial justice component, Parisi says. Wisconsin has one of the nation’s worst track records in disproportionately locking up blacks, who make up nearly half of Wisconsin’s prison population while constituting just 6 percent of the state’s population.

“Since the criminal justice system targets blacks, it also disproportionately disenfranchises them,” Parisi says.
The measure has support among many Democrats, who control both houses of the Legislature. All 18 co-sponsors in the Assembly are Democrats as well as four co-sponsors in the Senate. The bill passed the corrections committee on a party-line vote, clearing it for further debate in the full Assembly, but it is unlikely to garner wide bipartisan support.

Rep. Karl Van Roy, R-Green Bay, the ranking Republican on the Assembly corrections committee, was not available for comment. But he told constituents in a statement posted on his website that giving released felons the right to vote would allow them “to forget the reason why they lost their right to vote in the first place.”

“When you choose to commit a serious crime against society and you are found guilty by a court of law, you must forfeit certain rights for a prescribed amount of time in order to repay your debt to society,” he wrote.
Another bill introduced in the Assembly would dent county budgets. It would require that inmate phone charges in county jails not exceed rates charged by the state Department of Corrections.

The bill would come at a time when Dane County has already reduced phone charges for inmates. In 2007, the County Board voted to stop the county from profiting on inmate phone calls, which cost inmates $4.25 for a connection fee plus up to 50 cents a minute. This year, the charges are expected to bring in just over $800,000 for the county, but next year, when the new contract with the jail’s phone service provider, Inmate Calling Solutions, goes into effect, those rates will drop to 33 cents a minute for a local call and the connection fee will be eliminated. That would earn the county about $476,000, the 2010 county budget projects, which officials say is just enough to cover costs.

Under the state bill, the county would have to further reduce its rates to 12 cents a minute for in-state calls and 18 cents a minute for out-of-state calls with no connection fee — the rates currently charged by the Department of Corrections.

If passed, the law would have no impact until the county’s new contract with Inmate Calling Solutions expires in 2012.

At a time when the county is already trying to pinch pennies, the bill, which has had a public hearing but not a committee vote, would put a further burden on county taxpayers, according to Capt. Jeff Teuscher, Dane County jail administrator.

“Someone would have to absorb those costs,” he says. “In all likelihood, if that bill would pass, then that will be Dane County taxpayers.”

INMATE LEGISLATION

A series of bills introduced in both the Senate and the Assembly deal with getting inmates out of prison or keeping them from returning after being released. Provisions would cap at 90 days the amount of time an offender would spend in prison for rule violations that don’t constitute a new crime; limit the time offenders spend on extended supervision to 75 percent of the time they spend behind bars; and require the Department of Corrections to reduce recidivism by 25 percent by 2011. Another measure would add $20 million to the budget for community-based mental health and job-training services.

The proposals have virtually no change of passing as written. They were included in the state budget last summer and Gov. Jim Doyle vetoed the limits on prison time, and reduced $30 million Democrats wanted for community-based services to $10 million. But Democrats say re-introducing the bills provides a starting point for compromise measures.

Assembly Bill 353 would allow felons who have been released from prison, but remain on extended supervision, to vote. Currently, offenders are prohibited from voting until they have served their entire sentences.

The measure has Democratic support and passed the Assembly corrections committee on a party-line vote.

Assembly Bill 144 would prohibit county jails from charging inmates more than the state Department of Corrections does for phone calls. The legislation would likely affect revenues at nearly every jail in the state. The office of state Rep. Fred Kessler, D-Milwaukee, the author of the bill, reports that every jail that responded to a survey of phone rates charges more than the new state rates of 12 cents a minute for local calls and 18 cents a minute for out-of-state calls, with no connection fee.

The bill has received a public hearing, and Kessler has added an amendment that would allow current jail phone contracts to expire before the requirement kicks in. But the corrections committee has not voted on the proposal.

Assembly Bill 448 would require those held in a prison, jail or a juvenile facility to pay a portion of medical or dental care, through deductibles, coinsurance, copayments or other charges.

The bill was introduced by Rep. Mark Radcliffe, D-Black River Falls, and has three Democratic and three Republican co-sponsors in the Assembly, plus one Democrat and two Republicans in the Senate. The bill is opposed by Rep. Joe Parisi, D-Madison, the Assembly corrections committee chairman, who is unlikely to allow a hearing on it.

Assembly Bill 345 would prevent the state Department of Corrections from entering into any agreement to house detainees from the Guantanamo Bay naval base. Rep. Dean Kaufert, R-Neenah, who introduced the bill, says it would make Wisconsin a “Terrorist Free Zone.”

The proposal has Republican support, but Parisi says the legislation is unnecessary since there has been no talk of housing inmates from Guantanamo Bay in Wisconsin’s prisons.