Updated: Thursday, 19 Feb 2009, 5:43 PM CST
Published : Thursday, 19 Feb 2009, 5:43 PM CST
GREEN BAY - Wisconsin's estimated 22,000 inmate population could be seeing a significant reduction in coming years.
Governor Jim Doyle wants nonviolent offenders to be able to get out of jail sooner by earning days off their sentences with good behavior. He also wants to eliminate probation for nonviolent offenders convicted of misdemeanors.
"You go and behave yourself in prison and you do what you are supposed to do, there is actually some incentive for you to do well," Doyle said.
The plan, which is part of the governor's budget proposal, would save the state considerable money and alleviate crowding in prisons. Wisconsin is facing an estimated $5.7 billion shortfall by mid-2011. Doyle has said nothing is off limits in terms of making cuts.
Wisconsin's Department of Corrections Secretary, Rick Raemisch, estimates about 3,000 inmates would be eligible for early release.
"They truly do have to earn their way out, whether it be through programming, behavior adjustment, or positive changes behind bars. It's being smart on crime instead of tough on crime," Raemisch said. He did not have an exact savings estimate, however.
State Republican leaders are criticizing the plan, saying it would sacrifice public safety just to save some money.
It also goes against a decision from 10 years ago to create a new criminal sentencing system where prisoners must serve their full term of confinement. It is known as truth in sentencing.
"I think the feeling is that if somebody lands in prison or jail, they probably belong there," Brown County District Attorney, John Zakowski, said.
Zakowski acknowledged Doyle's difficult task in making cuts to the state budget but he said he would like to see offenders serve full sentences.
"There may be other ways to have savings then to undercut truth in sentencing, which I think has worked out quite well over the years and again is very important to victims," Zakowski added.
Raemisch said some inmates would serve 1 fewer day in prison for every 2 days of good behavior. Others would earn the early release at a slower rate. The most violent offenders, however, would not be eligbile.
Doyle's plan still has to pass the Senate and Assembly, but both are controlled by fellow Democrats.