it wasn't former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle's controversial earned release program — coincidentally projected to result in up to 3,000 early releases — that fueled the reduction. And whatever small impact that program had will likely end soon: GOP Gov. Scott Walker has vowed to kill it.
Corrections officials instead 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, said Mary Kay Kollat, director of re-entry for the state prison system.
Kollat acknowledged the department can't say for sure that the re-entry initiative — funded by a series of federal grants, private funding and a $10 million state grant — has played a role in the dramatic reduction, but it hasn't hurt.
"We know that some criminals belong in prison for a long time, and in some cases, forever," she said. "But research shows anywhere between 95 (percent) and 97 percent of offenders will get out. It is common sense that those people should be offered services and tools so that when they get out, they can be law-abiding citizens. That makes all of us safer."