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WUWM & MPTV Special SeriesWhy are so many Wisconsinites behind bars?And, what are the costs?In the 2010 Census, Wisconsin had the highest percentage of incarcerated black men in the nation. One out of every eight black men of working age is behind bars. In Milwaukee County, more than half of African American men in their thirties have served time in prison.Over the course of six months, WUWM and MPTV explored Wisconsin's high rate of black male incarceration, through expert analysis and personal stories.Why is the rate so high?How does imprisonment affect the men and their futures, as well as their families, neighborhoods and the region's economy?What are possible solutions?Contribute Your IdeasDo you have questions you'd like to have answered? Stories you'd like to share? Please share your questions and comments with us.

Wisconsin Legislation Could Lead to More Crimeless Revocations

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GOP lawmakers have put forth legislation that would require the Wisconsin Department of Corrections to recommend parole be revoked for anyone charged with a crime

In recent years, Wisconsin has sent several thousand people back to prison, even though they did not commit new crimes. What they did was violated the rules of their release by committing what otherwise might be considered minor offenses. On Wednesday, a panel of legislators debated a bill that could increase the number of so-called “crimeless revocations.”

The bill in question would require the Wisconsin Department of Corrections to recommend the revocation of a person’s parole, probation of extended supervision, if they’re charged with a new crime. In other words, recommend they be sent back to prison. Republican state Representative Joe Sanfelippo is one of the authors.

“This bill is a direct result of many meetings that we had with judges in different counties, not just Milwaukee County as a matter of fact. One of the complaints that we heard from the judges is I’m having defendants come before me on the bench who’ve I’ve already sentenced to supervision and they are not following any of the terms of their supervision,” Sanfelippo says.

Currently, the law says the corrections department may take custody of the person during the investigation of a possible new crime. Democratic Senator Fred Risser says the legislation is flawed, because it assumes the individual has committed another offense.

“You’re innocent of a crime until you’re guilty and here, a person is charged with a crime and the department is required to recommend parole be taken away. I don’t think that’s fair,” he says.

Risser says the parole officer and the department should have discretion in deciding whether revocation may be appropriate.

Fellow Democratic Senator Lena Taylor says that while she understands some people need to be in prison, there must be better ways of keeping communities safe and improving outcomes for former offenders.

"I’m willing to roll up my sleeves and say what are the solutions, but if we continue to do the same things and shoot from the hip in the same way and think that we can police and arrest our way out of it, that’s not it,” she says.

Taylor says perhaps Wisconsin should spend more money training parole officers or lessening their caseloads, so they can better tend to people who’ve recently left prison.

GOP Senator Leah Vukmir says her concern is for victims, not perpetrators of offenses.  

“We are not doing a good enough job of separating out those that are going to re-victimize, reoffend and quite frankly, put fear in the daily lives of our constituents. And I think that as lawmakers ad policy makers, I’m going to listen to those folks,” Vukmir says.

Moving to revoke parole is just one of several bills the Senate committee debated Wednesday for improving public safety. Others would require mandatory minimum sentences for certain crimes, and boost penalties for car-jacking.

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