It was the second year in a row that the number of people behind bars in state prisons had gone down, according to the Wisconsin Department of Corrections. In 2010, the average daily population declined by 3,147 offenders to 20,015.
"This is historic," agency spokesman Tim Le Monds said. "This is the first time we've seen a sustained reduction in our prison population — ever."
Corrections officials credit the reduction to a systemwide push begun five years ago to prepare all prisoners for re-entry into society. It aims to reduce the number of offenders who return to prison, either for violating terms of their release or by committing new crimes.
The initiative includes assessing each prisoner's risk to re-offend and providing at least some of them with services such as drug and alcohol treatment, anger management, job training, education and community support to boost their chances of success on the outside.
Incarceration rates in Wisconsin and nationwide had grown exponentially over the past few decades, fueled by tough-on-crime initiatives such "truth in sentencing," which eliminated early releases for good behavior.
Between 1990 and its high point in 2008, Wisconsin's prison population nearly quadrupled, from 6,533 to 23,341. Since then, the number of people in Wisconsin prisons has gone down each year, dropping dramatically in 2010 by nearly 14 percent.
- Article in the Wisconsin State Journal