Truth in Sentencing is an Expensive Lie

Right now the state is poised to pass one of the most expensive bills it has ever passed. Proponents like to call it the “truth in sentencing” bill. While state legislators are busy with this election-year nonsense, the real truth is being concealed from us.The truth is that several expensive prisons will need to be built to accommodate this new campaign-year proposal, and the taxpayers will have to foot the bill. When all the statistics show a drop in crime, this is obviously wasteful.

This election-year pandering serves no one but the politicians trying to shove the bill through. If people are satisfied with their taxes and wouldn’t mind them going up significantly higher, I can see how they might support this boondoggle. However, I don’t believe most Wisconsinites are that wealthy. Perhaps instead of concentrating on prison expansion (while crime is decreasing) and expanding the government bureaucracies that will have to support these prisons, legislators should concentrate on funding those parts of the criminal justice system they have neglected.

Over the last few years, the state has underfunded the judicial system. This has created backlogs in our court system which, in turn, deny individuals the constitutional right to a speedy trial. Lawmakers should be reminded that they took an oath to uphold the Constitution before they rush to expand government even more.

State lawmakers have underfunded youth aids, which pay to incarcerate juvenile offenders. Yet the only area that has seen a rise in the crime rate is crime conducted by juveniles. State officials again have failed to address that problem. Must there first be a death before this problem is addressed?

Finally, the most flagrant abuse of underfunding a program in order to assure its failure is the electronic monitoring program. Intensive sanctions failed last summer when a Milwaukee man who was on the state bracelet program violated the state intensive sanctions program 156 times and then killed two people while he was being monitored. Was there adequate funding to incarcerate this man once he violated the program? No. I spoke with the man in charge of overseeing the assailant–the officer wasn’t allowed to take him into custody. State government has a funny way of conveniently forgetting about its failures when it’s trying to sell us new ones.

Some might wonder how state officials can claim to cut taxes while they increase spending on roads, prisons and schools. The answer is simple–it’s on the backs of local taxpayers. Although many local governments have instituted cost-savings measures, the state continues to force counties to pay for unfunded state mandates. This shell game allows state officials to take credit for tax cuts while indirectly increasing local taxes. The bottom line is that most people will see their local taxes creep up, and far exceed what the state claims to have cut their taxes by.

The state has a long history of presenting bumper-sticker answers to complex criminal justice issues, rather than presenting good programs and providing adequate funding to assure their success. “Truth in sentencing” is just the latest in a string of lies the state is trying to sell to their taxpayers.

Jim McGuigan is County Supervisor for Milwaukee’s 6th District.

NOTE: This article was originally published as a guest commentary in the Shepherd Express weekly newspaper. Sadly, they no longer publish guest commentaries. They have since removed it from their website and the author of the Truth in Sentencing legislation, then State Representative Scott Walker, has since been elected Governor.



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