MILWAUKEE — Gov. Scott Walker said Tuesday he has yet to visit a prison in Wisconsin and he doesn’t plan to if he’s re-elected because “there’s no value” in him doing so.
He made the comments during a news conference to criticize Democratic gubernatorial candidates who say they want to reduce the state’s prison population by releasing some inmates early. A week before Democrats choose the candidate to challenge Walker in November, the Republican governor said “there cannot be a starker contrast” between himself and his potential opponents.
“This is about as clear cut as it gets,” Walker said. “If you believe that violent offenders should be let out early, then one of these candidates is probably your candidate.”
Walker said that although he hasn’t visited a state prison, he has spoken to offenders who participated in employment training programs. He said inmate job training is a better alternative to reforming the correctional system than releasing offenders early.
Democrats quickly lashed out, with state firefighter union president Mahlon Mitchell saying Walker’s refusal to visit any of the state’s prisons, which cost about $1 billion to operate annually, is proof the governor “is unfit to lead and will be replaced in November.”
State Superintendent Tony Evers questioned how a governor who oversees a billion-dollar corrections budget can refuse to visit a corrections facility. He said the state needs to be “smarter on crime” and invest in drug courts and rehabilitation programs.
Former state Rep. Kelda Roys called Walker’s comments “cheap scare tactics and fear-mongering.”
Flynn said Walker’s refusal to visit a prison amounted to “criminal negligence” and showed that Walker “wants to turn a blind eye to problems.”
Vinehout, meanwhile, noted that Minnesota’s prison population is less than half that of Wisconsin, even though the states have about the same number of residents.
“Our people are no more violent than they are. Minnesotans are no less safe than we are,” Vinehout said.
Wisconsin’s prison population stood at 23,519 inmates at the end of 2017, according to a state Department of Corrections report. Sixty-seven percent of inmates had committed a violent offense.
Democrats’ plans to reduce the prison population include releasing ill and aging inmates, legalizing marijuana, and releasing inmates early for good behavior.