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Civil Discourse: Tommy Thompson "Smart on Crime" Prison Reform

Most people in politics talk “tough on crime.” Former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson is talking “smart on crime.”

Thompson, always an innovator while in public office, is now proposing intelligent, thought-provoking ideas to reform our criminal justice system, save taxpayer dollars and reduce recidivism.

The Wisconsin Department of Corrections now rivals the entire University of Wisconsin system for funding. And, according to Thompson, the prison system as it exists today is broken.

Thompson wants to see a Wisconsin prison turned into an education and training center, a vocational school. 

Wisconsin faces a critical shortage of plumbers, electricians, welders and carpenters. Tapping into the estimated 50% of the Wisconsin prison population that is non-violent for job-related training makes sense.

Most prisoners end up getting back on the street. Releasing them with a skill like plumbing, welding or carpentry means they have a chance at becoming productive, taxpaying members of society. That will certainly reduce the rate at which offenders are returned to prison.

Thompson believes in second chances for those who earn them. By committing to an apprenticeship program, completing drug and alcohol counseling, agreeing to pay back the state a portion of the cost of their vocational education and very careful screening, this could be as effective as Thompson’s nationally-recognized welfare reform during his tenure as governor.

Reform of our broken corrections system comes with the risk of being charged with being “soft on crime.” Thompson’s bold leadership should give cover to those in office who need to implement his reform agenda.

Tommy Thompson has been one of Wisconsin’s most effective governors. Legislators today would be wise to follow him again and put Wisconsin in the national limelight for prison reform, rehabilitation of offenders and reduction in recidivism.

That’s my opinion. I’d like to hear yours.

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