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Former Wisconsin Governor Regrets Building Prisons

by Scott Grammer

Tommy G. Thompson, who served as governor of Wisconsin from 1987 to 2001, has recently said he regrets building so many prisons during his tenure. 

In April 2018 he wrote an op-ed for the Journal Sentinel, stating he had “come to believe that our corrections system and incarceration practices are both financially unsustainable and provide questionable outcomes.” 

“We lock up too many people for too long. It’s about time we change the dynamics. I apologize for that,” Thompson stated. 

The former governor mentioned he would like to see Wisconsin prisons converted into vocational schools so prisoners can receive training and help with the state’s worker shortage. 

“The way we warehouse prisoners right now is not the right way.... Some people have to be in prison, there is no question about it. But we have too many people locked up that should be rehabilitated, retrained and allowed to get out and take a job. We need the workers,” Thompson declared.

However, another former Wisconsin governor, Scott Walker, said he saw no value in visiting state prisons and criticized Democrats for suggesting that the prison population should be reduced. Walker, who served in the state Assembly in the 1990s, was lead sponsor of the “truth-in-sentencing” law that ended parole in Wisconsin. During his first term as governor, he ended his predecessor’s early-release program.

Walker survived a recall election in 2012, the first governor in the history of the United States to do so. He was targeted for recall after signing the Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill, which was intended to limit the collective bargaining power of state employees. He lost his bid for a third term as governor to Tony Evers in 2018. 



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