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Right-Wing ALEC Retreats on Most Controversial Issues

ALEC disbands task force responsible for Stand Your Ground, voter ID, prison privatization, AZ's anti-immigrant law SB 1070.

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While these bills have attracted the most attention in recent weeks, the Criminal Justice / Public Safety & Elections Task Force has been advancing a variety of other controversial policies since the late 1980s.

Members of the Task Force have included for-profit prison providers like Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), which has also served as the co-chair. The ALEC Criminal Justice / Public Safety & Elections Task Force has created model bills that lengthen sentences, which have dramatically increased incarceration rates, and bills that privatize prisons, putting more of those inmates under the control of for-profit corporations, as well as many other policies.

Walker's Ties to ALEC Criminal Justice Task Force

Scott Walker was a proud ALEC member when he was in the state legislature, and introduced several ALEC bills approved by the Criminal Justice Task Force. Since becoming governor, he has continued to push these ALEC-supported "criminal justice" efforts.

In 1997, then-Representative Walker introduced (and the legislature passed) the ALEC Criminal Justice Task Force - approved "Truth in Sentencing" act, which requires inmates to serve their full sentence without options for parole or supervised release. The law takes away incentives for prisoners to reduce prison time through good behavior and participation in counseling, and eliminates the ability for judges and parole boards to decide that the financial and social costs of keeping a particular person incarcerated no longer furthers public safety goals.

The state estimated that the first 21 months after the law took effect would cost taxpayers an extra $41 million, as 990 inmates would have to be incarcerated for an additional 18,384 months. Wisconsin's prison population increased 14 percent in the seven years after the law took effect, with no correlative public safety benefit or additional decline in crime rates. The annual budget for the state prison system jumped from $700 million in 1999 to $1.2 billion in 2009, becoming the third-largest expenditure in the 2009-2011 state budget.

During this period of growing prison populations, then-Representative Scott Walker introduced several bills between 1997 and 1999 that would allow private prisons in Wisconsin, including one to privatize state prison operations (see the ALEC bill here), and another allowing private corrections companies to open prisons in Wisconsin to house inmates from other states (see the ALEC bill here). Walker noted in 1998 that CCA wanted to expand into Wisconsin. While those bills did not pass, some inmates were contracted-out to private prisons in other states, and CCA has registered lobbyists in the state ever since.

"Clearly ALEC had proposed model legislation," Walker told American Radio Works in 2002 (although there was no reference to ALEC when the legislature was considering the bill). "And probably more important than just the model legislation, [ALEC] had actually put together reports and such that showed the benefits of Truth-in-Sentencing and showed the successes in other states. And those sorts of statistics were very helpful to us when we pushed it through, when we passed the final legislation," Walker said

Those statistics, though, were critiqued by criminologists as unreliable and intended to persuade rather than educate: Walker said that he and fellow ALEC members relied on an ALEC report crediting Virginia's Truth-in-Sentencing law with a five-year drop in crime, but crime dropped in ALL states in the 1990s, regardless of whether a state passed a tough-on-crime law like Truth-in-Sentencing.

(See this graphic from American Radio Works explaining the CCA-ALEC-Wisconsin sentencing law connection)

The Wisconsin state legislature apparently recognized the folly of Truth in Sentencing and rolled-back aspects of the law between 2001 and 2009. When Scott Walker became governor, he reversed this progress and pushed for legislation fully restoring the ALEC Truth in Sentencing, despite the costs to taxpayers and despite claiming Wisconsin was "broke." In early July, Governor Walker's office released a statement supporting expanded use of prison labor, another idea promoted in ALEC bills approved by the ALEC Criminal Justice Task Force.

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