Prison Bill’s True Cost Much Higher
Vukmir proposal to toughen revocation rules could cost $201 million per year.
The Republican proposal to toughen revocation rules for people under Department of Corrections supervision and to build a new prison to house them all could be far more expensive than has been publicly discussed, according to records.
The measure was approved by the Assembly and is awaiting action by the State Senate. No Democrat voted for the proposal, although State Rep. Jason Fields (D-Milwaukee) did not cast a vote. Republican Adam Jarchow (R-Balsam Lake) voted against it, and David Murphy (R-Greenville) and Shannon Zimmerman (R-River Falls) did not vote.
While focus has been directed at one scenario presented by DOC that put the cost of the revocation proposal at $57 million per year in DOC operations cost when fully implemented, the department worked up others that would be far more costly – the most expensive would top out at $201 million per year.
And while the Assembly version of the bill would authorize $350 million in borrowing, interest payments likely would add at least $100 million to that price tag and possibly much more, depending on the length of the financing and the interest rate.
Finally, the proposal would financially burden counties, most of which would be forced to hold in local jails, at county expense, those recommended for revocation while they await their revocation hearings and decisions. That process could take at least 60 days. The increased costs could well translate into increased property taxes or, because of levy limits the state places on counties, reduced services in other areas.
“Essentially, this bill is an unfunded mandate to Wisconsin county jails,” Iowa County Sheriff Steve Michek said in testimony prepared for the Assembly Committee on Corrections. Michek testified on an earlier version of the bill on behalf of the Badger State Sheriffs’ Association and the Wisconsin Sheriffs and Deputy Sheriffs Association.
The proposal, originally sponsored by State Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Brookfield), would require DOC to recommend revocation of supervision for anyone charged with a new violent misdemeanor or any felony. DOC estimates the bill would result in 2,135 new revocation recommendations per year.
In 2016, 92% of revocation recommendations were eventually affirmed, and the average length of subsequent imprisonment was 39 months, according to DOC.
If the share of additional revocation recommendations ultimately approved remains at the current 92%, the bill will cost an estimated $100.9 million to $201.4 million per year when it is fully implemented, depending on the average term of imprisonment.
If the approval rate for the additional recommendations falls to 72%, the bill will cost an estimated $79.1 million to $161.8 million; at a 52% revocation rate, it would cost $57.3 million to $117 million.
Gretchen Schuldt writes a blog for Wisconsin Justice Initiative, whose mission is “To improve the quality of justice in Wisconsin by educating the public about legal issues and encouraging civic engagement in and debate about the judicial system and its operation.