Wisconsin’s Governor Tony Evers, whose campaign pledged to cut his state’s prison population in half, has instead recommended a $259 million expenditure to build more prisons.
According to Matt Kettle of MacIver News Service, the governor submitted a proposal to build seven major Department of Corrections (DOC) projects. This is a six-fold increase from his predecessor, Gov. Scott Walker, who recommended $41.68 million in DOC capital financing.
“The spending is just mind-blowing,” said state Rep. Michael Schraa (ROshkosh), chairman of the Assembly’s Committee on Corrections.
Prison construction, at 10% of Evers $2.5 billion two-year budget, demonstrates the new governor appears to have turned away from social reform. MacIver News Service said he now plans on increasing the prison occupancy by at least 310 beds to cover a projected increase of approximately 3,000 additional inmates by 2025.
As late as last year, the state’s prison population was 33% above capacity.
According to reporter Kettle, Evers successfully campaigned on initiatives that included decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana and “investing in people, not prisons.”
The governor was credited with a political strategy that enabled him to agree with reforms that were in line with his more liberal opponents in the Democratic Party primary. Included in his campaign was a promise of a massive reduction of prisoners.
Now, Schraa told MacIver News Service that it appears the governor is stepping away from one of his main campaign promises, which included fiscal and social reform by reducing the prison population. During the campaign, Evers told his constituency that the prison population’s reduction of 50% is a “goal that’s worth accomplishing.” Kettle reported. Now, Wisconsin State Rep. Schraa said Evers made it clear to him in a meeting earlier this year that the governor was not talking about cutting the prison population in half anytime soon. “That’s when he back-
tracked and said that his goal is to have that eventually, that could happen even after he’s out of office,” added Schraa, according to reporter Kettle.
The DOC still says they are committed to research- ing any possible opportunities to reduce Wisconsin’s prison population.
In an email sent to MacIver News Service, the DOC wrote, “Under Gov. Tony Evers’ criminal justice reform, our staff is looking into many different avenues to reduce the prison population while maintaining our first priority of public safety.”
Reporter Kettle concluded that Evers’ reverse and search for additional prison beds, emphasizes an admission that social justice reform programs and initiatives might sound good on the campaign trail, but they don’t necessarily reflect the reality of the rising prison population and the need to keep the public safe.