New study raises questions about prisoners with life sentences in WisconsinA new national report on the rising number of prison inmates serving life sentences raises questions about Wisconsin sentencing and parole policies.
By: Gilman Halsted, Wisconsin Public Radio, Superior Telegram
A new national report on the rising number of prison inmates serving life sentences raises questions about Wisconsin sentencing and parole policies.
The study by the Washington, D.C.-based Sentencing Project found that more than 150,000 inmates nationally are serving life sentences. That number has increased by 22 percent since 2008.
In Wisconsin, the number of lifers rose by just 1 percent to a current total of 1,185. But the number of those serving sentences without the possibility of parole rose by more than 33 percent to a total of 229.
The study's author, Ashley Nellis, says that's surprising considering that violent crime has declined over the past decade. “It also is important because … of the sort of moment that we're in, with Attorney General Eric Holder announcing this sort of recalibration of the justice system and saying this experiment with mass incarceration has been essentially a failure.”
Rep. Evan Goyke (D-Milwaukee), who serves on the Assembly Criminal Justice Committee, is especially concerned about the reports finding that 22 of the prisoners serving life without parole committed their crimes when they were teenagers.
“If you’re incarcerated for a crime you committed at 17 on your 77th birthday, the likelihood that you would return to that same behavior is so minimal,” says Goyke. “Why are we not evaluating these individuals to see if it's appropriate after 60 years of confinement they can be returned to the community?”
Under a 2009 law, inmates serving life without parole do have the right to petition for parole but so far none have been released.
The report is available online at http://sentencingproject.org/doc/publications/inc_Life%20Goes%20On%202013.pdf. An interactive map showing state-by-state information of prisoners serving life sentences is available on the WPR site, http://news.wpr.org/, by clicking on the story.