Why does Wisconsin build prisons while Minnesota treats people?

Jim Baumgart  Sheboygan County Supervisor

Reported by the Wisconsin Taxpayer Alliance magazine, April 2010, Vol. 78, No. 4, comes the following: “In 1989, corrections was Wisconsin’s seventhlargest expenditure. Twenty years later, it was the state’s third-largest expenditure. Over those twenty years, corrections spending grew more than two and one-half times as fast as other expenditures, and in 2008, it was 133.9 % higher than in Minnesota.” “Wisconsin spent 1.08 billion on corrections in 2008, compared to $460 million in Minnesota. Per capita spending here was 23% above the average of 11 states with violet crime rates within 10% of Wisconsin’s. Wisconsin had over 13,000 more prison inmates than Minnesota, but fewer people under correctional control.”

Why raise the question? Minnesota, with a similar population as Wisconsin, each had about 6,200 people in their prison system in 1990. Now Wisconsin has over 13,000 more people in prison.

It was a question raised at the Sheboygan County Legislative Breakfast in July to area legislators by a number of Sheboygan County supervisors and a county official. That the rapid rise in prisoner costs were taking away funding from other important state programs, such as veterans, education and others.

Senator Glenn Grothman suggested at the meeting there were reason for the difference between the states; saying Wisconsin is magnet to some because of benefits and because of the type of persons moving into the state. Because both states have a major city, population and economy was similar in 1990, and the prison population was nearly the same at that time, it seemed like a weak argument to justify building prisons and putting people behind bars in near record rates - something Minnesota tried to stay away from by being innovative while still protecting its people.

Figures taken from 2008 University of Marquette law study does not support Senator Grothman. It shows the following:

Minnesota (top number)
Wisconsin (bottom number)
Prison population
Parole population
Probation population
127,627 50,418
Crime rate
Violent crime
Property crime
Incarceration rate


Note: The reader should understand that the figures shown above will be slightly different (earlier figures) than the 2012 data. Also, crime rates of Wisconsin and Minnesota are fairly close - the difference, Wisconsin builds additional facilities and sends more people to prison.

Next week this column will look at: “Why Does Wisconsin Lock Up More Black Men Than Any Other State” (Source: University of Wisconsin Milwaukee study), why “Being Smart on Crime Could Lead to Big Savings”(Coalition for Justice, an alliance of faith-based groups - state capitol testimony on 3/14/13), government waste, along with other prison issues.

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