Gov. Scott Walker knocked several Dem guv candidates for proposing to halve the state’s prison population, calling the position dangerous and based on a myth that the state’s prisons are primarily filled with non-violent drug offenders.
But Dems fired back, saying Walker has mishandled the state’s youth prisons and criticized him for saying he sees “no value” in visiting any of the state’s prisons.
Walker said during a press conference at the Milwaukee Police Association headquarters Tuesday that only 11 percent of the state’s prison population is in for solely drug-related crimes, which he said is ‘overwhelmingly’ composed of dealers and traffickers. He said two-thirds of those in prison are there for violent offenses.
Walker said that even if all non-violent offenders were let out, including those convicted of crimes such as burglary and driving under the influence, nearly 4,000 violent offenders would have to be released to hit the 50 percent goal.
“I think this is dangerous,” Walker said. “I think what they’re proposing is dangerously liberal, and it’s based on a myth about the prison population.”
Walker singled out Dem candidates Tony Evers, Mike McCabe, Kelda Roys and Kathleen Vinehout, displaying quotes from all of them in support of halving the prison population.
Walker noted that all people in the state’s prisons are felons who were given sentences of one year or more.
“When it comes to violent criminals in the state of Wisconsin, I want to keep them in for their entire sentence,” said Walker, who authored the state’s truth-in-sentencing law while he served in the Legislature. “Many of my opponents on the other side of the aisle want to let them out early.”
Walker pointed to ways the state is seeking to reduce the number of people in prison, including offering alternatives to incarceration, and technical and vocational training for inmates so they can land careers and avoid recidivism once they’re released.
“To me, that’s the much more viable approach, that’s a much better form of prison reform than talking about letting violent offenders, violent criminals out of prison early here in the state of Wisconsin,” Walker said.
— The state Dem Party, meanwhile, slammed Walker for problems at the state’s youth prisons.
“Scott Walker’s own corrections secretary blasted him for mismanagement of prisons,” the party said in a statement, referencing former Secretary Ed Wall, who has endorsed Evers. “Instead of reviewing plans to fix the problem, Walker’s chief of staff discouraged a paper trail. Walker was more worried about bad headlines and lousy fundraising than he was about juveniles being abused.”
Democrats have also in the past knocked Walker for not visiting any of the state’s prisons as governor.
Walker said he has no plans to do so.
“To me, there’s no value to visiting,” Walker said, adding that he has, though, talked to offenders involved in state programs. “To me, there’s people we hire to run the corrections system, and I’ll certainly allow them to do their job.”
— Evers fired back at Walker, labeling him as an opportunist who puts his political ambitions ahead of the state’s interests.
“How can the governor – who oversees a billion dollars a year in Corrections funding – refuse to visit a corrections facility?” Evers wrote on Twitter.
Evers also slammed the guv for the ongoing FBI investigation into Lincoln Hills youth prison and called on Wisconsin to follow the lead of states like Texas which he said have invested in drug courts and rehabilitation.
Other Democratic candidates that Walker singled out called on him to look to Wisconsin’s western neighbor as an example on corrections.
“I refuse to be lectured on how to repair our broken criminal justice system by the failed governor who helped break it. Minnesota incarcerates half as many people as Wisconsin and they’re a safer state,” Roys said in a statement.
She further chastised the guv for not visiting Lincoln Hills youth prison, and charged him for allowing state prisons to become overcrowded.
McCabe in a statement also made comparisons to Minnesota.
“Wisconsin imprisons twice as many people as Minnesota,” McCabe said. “That hasn’t resulted in less crime in Wisconsin. It only dooms us to a state budget that spends more on prisons than on the entire university system.”
McCabe also called the governor’s approach to corrections “dumb on crime” and argued the state should emphasize sentencing alternatives to imprisonment.
Vinehout in a statement called for the guv to learn from Minnesota, whose criminal justice system she called “safe and humane.”
“With the same population Minnesota has less than half the prison population Wisconsin does,” the western Wisconsin Dem said.
– See a release from Walker on the press conference:
– See the Dem Party release: