NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Prisoners Are Violent, Repeat Offenders

April 1, 1996

More evidence refuting claims that state prisons are filled with nonviolent, first-time drug offenders comes from a study of Wisconsin's urban prison population by penal experts John DiIulio and George Mitchell found that typical prisoners are violent criminals with long records who pose a threat to public safety.

The researchers analyzed a representative sample of Department of Corrections inmate files, including information on juvenile criminal activity, to create a profile of criminal activity for prison inmates in Milwaukee County. They found that:

  • Three of four inmates are in prison for a current violent crime conviction.
  • Most inmates in prison for a current non-violent crime had previously committed a violent crime.
  • About 91 percent of inmates had a current or prior adult or juvenile conviction for a violent crime.

The study found that drug and property offenders showed a pattern of recidivism, probation or parole violations and prior violent crime.

  • None of the inmates was in prison solely for possession of an illegal drug.
  • Just 7 percent were in prison for drug trafficking offenses.
  • Only 17 percent were in prison for property crimes (burglary, theft, forgery and arson) or other crimes such as prison escape and illegal firearms possession.
  • Nine of 10 inmates had a prior adult or juvenile conviction.
  • About 41 percent committed their most recent crime while on probation or parole and 77 percent had violated terms of a prior probation or parole.

The majority of inmates had a documented juvenile crime record, and among first offenders, 87.5 percent were imprisoned for a violent crime.

The median sentence for male inmates in the sample was 10 years, and historical data suggests they will serve about half their sentences before being paroled. Which won't be long from now, since 82 percent will be eligible for at least discretionary parole -- and more than half will be eligible for mandatory parole -- by 2000.

Source: John J. DiIulio Jr. and George A. Mitchell, "Who Really Goes to Prison in Wisconsin? A Profile of Urban Inmates in Wisconsin Prisons," Wisconsin Policy Research Institute Report, Vol. 9, No. 4, April 1996, Wisconsin Public Policy Institute, 3107 North Shepard Avenue, Milwaukee, WI 53211, (414) 963-0600.


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