Our newspaper has given extensive coverage to the crowded conditions at the Marinette County Jail in recent years. We have reported on the high cost of transporting juveniles to out-of-county facilities because of a lack of space to house them here.

Our court blotter on the Records page usually has a heavy dose of defendants who receive stiff sentences for various offenses. Bottom line is that society is dealing with troubled people on a steady basis. 

The Associated Press (AP) earlier this month gave us more to chew on. The AP says Wisconsin’s prisons held a record number of adults in 2017 and the population will only continue to grow over the next two years, which will cost the state tens of millions of dollars. 

Nonpartisan research organization, Wisconsin’s Policy Forum’s findings who a record of 23,687 adults were incarcerated in state prisons last year, up 23 percent from 2016. Think about it — 23,687 adults sitting in jail cells is larger the combined populations of Marinette and Menominee. 

The organization notes that the Department of Corrections’ 2019-2021 budget request projects the population will grow by an additional 5.7 percent to around 25,055 inmates by 2021. The agency has asked for an additional $149.4 million to handle the influx. 

The report attributes the population increase to a number of factors. More inmates are getting locked up again after violating terms of their parole or extended supervision. According to the report, 36.5 percent of all admissions on 2017 were inmates whose parole or supervision had been revoked, compared with 21.9 percent in 1990. Inmates entering prison with a new sentence dropped from 45.6 percent to 29.9 percent over the same 27-year-period. 

Wisconsin’s truth-in-sentencing laws also are keeping more inmates behind bars longer, according to the report.

Republicans who control the state assembly passed a bill last February that would have authorized $350 million in borrowing to build a new prison. The measure died in the Senate. 

Governor-elect Tony Evers, during the campaign, said he supports reducing the population by half, according to AP. He didn’t offer a plan on how to achieve that. Gov. Scott Walker, who was defeated by Evers, says Evers cant reach that goal without releasing violent offenders because more than half of inmates are in for violent crimes. The AP, quoting experts, said Walker is right. 

Health care, roads and the economy were three top issues during the bitterly fought campaign. We think overcrowded prisons should be a high priority when state government gets back to business under a new administration.

Furthermore, we believe that reducing the prison population by half is too risky. We don’t think society is prepared to accept violent criminals in our neighborhoods because state prisons are overcrowded.

Let the prison overcrowding debate begin. We consider it a hot-button issue that deserves prompt attention.