Democrats question Walker's prison bed estimate
By TODD RICHMOND
Mar. 09, 2017
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Democrats questioned Thursday why Republican Gov. Scott Walker believes Wisconsin will need hundreds fewer contract prison beds than his own Department of Corrections estimates, especially when a new law could keep hundreds of repeat drunken drivers behind bars longer.
The Corrections Department contracts with county jails and federal prisons to house inmates. The agency's 2017-19 biennial budget request sought about $40 million to cover 3,686 contract beds. Department officials say the estimate is based on expectations that hundreds of repeat drunken drivers will enter the prison system as a result of a law that made fourth-offense drunken driving a felony and extended felony sentences for subsequent offenses. The law went into effect in January.
Walker's budget provides $17.3 million total for 2,086 beds.
Plans to house more young adult offenders at the Racine Youthful Offender Correctional Facility and expand the state's earned release program, which allows nonviolent inmates who complete drug and alcohol treatment to get out of prison early, explain some of Walker's decision to ratchet back the department's request, according to a Legislative Fiscal Bureau budget summary. But that still leaves Walker 1,208 beds short of Corrections Department projections.
Rep. Evan Goyke, a Milwaukee Democrat who sits on the Assembly Corrections Committee, said Walker's lower estimates don't make any sense especially with more drunken drivers headed for prison. He said the governor is ignoring them because he doesn't want to spend the extra money, creating a crisis when the new inmates arrive.
Department of Administration spokesman Steven Michels said in an email that Walker assumes the full impact of the drunken driving law won't be felt this biennium. Asked why the administration doesn't believe the influx of new inmates will come in the next two years, he noted Corrections sought 1,937 beds in the 2013-15 budget and Walker provided 424 because he assumed the need wouldn't be as great as the agency believed. The actual population did eventually align with Corrections' original estimates, he said, but it took longer than anticipated.
Goyke said he believes the agency understands best what it needs. The safe bet is fully funding the agency's request, he said. If the population doesn't materialize the state would save money, he said.
Inmate estimates routinely change as the Legislature's finance committee revises governors' budgets. Michels added the administration can adjust funding throughout the biennium with legislative approval if necessary.
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