Prisons chief OK with erasing parole commission

The leader of Wisconsin’s prison system is telling the Legislature’s budget committee that he supports having one person decide who gets out on parole rather than a commission.

The Joint Finance Committee questioned Department of Corrections Secretary Jon Litscher on Tuesday about changes Gov. Scott Walker wants to make to the agency through the 2017-19 state budget. One of the provisions in the budget calls for eliminating the state Parole Commission and replacing it with a parole director Walker would appoint.

Republican Sen. Leah Vukmir told Litscher that she was concerned about one person making parole decisions. Litscher said 420 minimum- and medium-security inmates are currently eligible for parole and he believes one person can handle the workload.

Vukmir continue to press on whether one person should have all the authority to make a parole decision. Litscher said he personally doesn’t have a problem with that.

Litscher ‘comfortable’ with budget’s beds

The budget committee is also questioning whether the state prison system can handle an expected influx of drunken drivers.

The DOC has requested about $40 million for 3,686 contract beds based on expectations hundreds of repeated drunken drivers will enter prison as a result of a new law that made fourth-offense a felony and increased sentences for subsequent offenses. Walker’s budget provides the agency $17.3 million for 2,086 beds.

Joint Finance Committee members Rep. Gordon Hintz and Sen. Lena Taylor questioned Litscher about the discrepancy between the agency’s projections and Walker’s estimates.

Litscher says expanded alcohol treatment for inmates will help prisoners earn early release and the agency hopes drunken drivers won’t enter the system as quickly as officials initially estimated. He says he can’t predict what the numbers will really be but he’s “comfortable” with the money Walker has provided and will leave it at that.

Prison chief defends Walker’s lack of visits

Litscher defended Walker against criticism that he has yet to visit a prison.

Walker hasn’t visited any prisons since he first took office in 2011. Democrats have been pushing him to visit the state’s troubled youth prison in Irma.

Hintz asked Litscher if Litscher is having any luck convincing the governor to visit a prison.

Litscher said visiting or not visiting a prison isn’t the question. He says Walker has entrusted DOC to run the prison system and the agency’s operations are “well-communicated” to the governor.