Representative Evan Goyke says now’s the time for criminal justice reform. If lawmakers don’t act fast, he says the first prisoner in Wisconsin’s system since 2001 will be forced into a private prison out of state in 2018.
“The prison system is designed to hold about 17.5 thousand inmates, and yet … [it has] about 23.5 thousand,” Goyke says. “Cells built for one prisoner house two, some house three.”
And Goyke says since Wisconsin prisons are already at max capacity, the state needs to pay county jails to house their inmates. The Department of Corrections says there are only 500 of those beds available, and the state only has 53 beds. Goyke says without meaningful criminal justice reform, the state will need to find a new option for that five hundred and fifth prisoner — inmate 501.
“Number 501 has to go somewhere else,” Goyke says. “We’ll either build a new facility, which costs lots of money, or we’ll send that person out of state — potentially to a private prison — which would also cost lots of money.”
But Goyke has a plan. He’s circling a three pronged approach for co-sponsorship.
Included in the bills is re-purposing the troubled Lincoln Hills youth prison. That facility is under both federal and state investigation for alleged abuse of inmates and staff. Plus, a decreasing number inmates there mean keeping the facility open is unsustainable.
“The adults are overcrowded,” Goyke says. “The juvenile prison facility is overcrowded.”
Goyke proposes closing the facility and using the space as a treatment center instead. He says that facility could accommodate inmates eligible through the earned release program — a program he wants to expand
Finally, Goyke wants to make sure fewer people go back to prison once they’ve been released. Currently, people can return to prison for violating rules of their parole that aren’t criminal — like missing meetings or treatment appointments. Goyke wants to limit the period of incarceration for most rule breakers to 30 days.
Goyke — a democrat — is urging bipartisan support of his bills.