Christian Schneider

Author, Columnist

Is the Recession Hitting Felons Too Hard?

When a recession hits, we all focus on the government policies that are most immediate to the economic downturn: unemployment, income, taxes, debt, etc.  But in the “never waste a crisis” vein, it appears Wisconsin Democrats are trying to parlay the recession into a major change in the way we deal with those who have committed crimes.

The most obvious example to date is Governor Jim Doyle’s plan to save the state money by granting early release to up to 3,500 “nonviolent” offenders in state prisons.  Somehow, in a budget that Doyle claims “cuts” $5.9 billion, he was able to spend $500 million more on K-12 education to pacify the teachers’ unions, while reducing prison spending by $20 million.  Perhaps the citizens of Wisconsin should form the “Association of People Who Don’t Like Being Stabbed in the Head,” give Doyle some campaign cash, and he might change his mind about letting criminals back on the streets early.  Of course, these offenders will be hitting the streets at the very same time unemployment in Wisconsin has exceeded 8.5%, meaning they’re not exactly going to rush back to lives of productivity.

But legislative Democrats have an answer – they have begun circulating a bill they’ve dubbed the “Job Opportunity Tax Credit” that they boast gives businesses tax credits to hire certain people – veterans, poor high school students, ex-felons, people in vocational rehabilitation programs…

Oh, did I skip over that one too quickly?  I’ll say it again.


You read that right –  their proposal would actually give a business a tax credit for hiring an ex-felon.  Naturally, this gives the business a financial incentive to hire criminals over people who, say, may have managed to avoid molesting children or gunning someone down in the street.  (I believe the bill exempts killing someone softly with love songs.)

Of course, we should encourage people who have served their time to make a living.  Ex-cons (and even current-cons) are already protected by state law against employment discrimination for past arrest or conviction record, which gives them a decent chance at getting a job with employers who are fearful of a lawsuit if they don’t hire them.  If they emerge from prison and can’t find meaningful employment, society is asking for a world of hurt.

But actually giving criminals preference for jobs simply goes too far.  The world is officially upside down when someone can live on the straight-and-narrow their entire life, then lose out on a job opportunity specifically because someone else couldn’t.  (Note to self:  During my next job interview, I should actually jump over the desk and dump battery acid on the boss- then explain to his charred skeleton he should hire me because he’s now eligible for a tax credit.  Everyone wins!)

Side note: How do you think veterans feel about being lumped in with ex-felons?  If you hire an ex-con who is also a veteran, do you have to immediately have to make him the CEO of your company?

Showing that they also have a sense of humor, legislative Dems have also begun circulating a bill draft (LRB-0910) that would impose a one-year prison sentence on any legislator that engages in lobbying within one year of leaving office. The bill is an attempt to convince the public that legislators no longer in “the club” are the cause of corruption in our state – not the current legislators who agree to be corrupted by lobbyists.  As if everyone will forget who a representative is a full year after they leave office.  Maybe we should erase their pictures from all the old Blue Books just to be safe. 

So, apparently, our prisons are so overcrowded, we have to let 3,500 offenders out, but we have plenty of room for “violent” offenders like lawmakers who get a job lobbying after they quit. 

Here are some crimes considered to be “nonviolent” by the state:

  • Possession of explosives 
  • Burglary 
  • Incest 
  • Causing mental harm to a child 
  • Manufacture, distribution or delivery of drugs 
  • Theft

So all you guys in the “incest” line – you can all go free.  You legislators over there – you can take their cells.

Obviously, the recession hits everyone hard (except for, of course, state government, which will continue to grow.)  But using the financial crisis to socially engineer changes that benefit those who have harmed others isn’t the “stimulus” we need.


  1. will these excons also have priority at the recruitment office?

  2. Your outrage suggests you don’t have a clue when its comes to our overcrowded prison system. Here is a media release the ACLU of Wisconsin issued April 9th on the budget proposal to allow early release of some inmates. A letter on the subject to the Joint Finance Committee can be found at

    ACLU of Wisconsin


    For Immediate Release: April 9, 2009
    Contact: Christopher Ahmuty, Executive Director, (414) 272-4032, ext. 13

    ACLU of Wisconsin urges legislators to support early inmate release to alleviate serious prison overcrowding

    Milwaukee – Wisconsin’s prisons are so overcrowded that they necessitate budget proposals to allow the early release of some eligible offenders into the community under supervision. Today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin wrote to the co-chairs of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance to describe the crisis in our prisons caused by overcrowding. “These budget proposals will address this crisis to the extent that they allow eligible offenders to leave prison for supervision in the community, thereby making the prisons less crowded, more manageable and less dangerous,” wrote ACLU of Wisconsin Executive Director Chris Ahmuty.

    “We commend Governor Jim Doyle for facing reality and making a serious proposal, despite the predictable opposition from supporters of the untenable status quo. We can’t afford to waste tax dollars building more prisons, in effect supporting a ‘prison-industrial complex’,” Ahmuty said today.

    Since 1991 Wisconsin’s prison population has tripled to over 22,000 men and women, a severely disproportionate number of whom are persons of color. The capacity of the prison system is a maximum of 18,000 prisoners.

    “One of the most pernicious effects of overcrowding is that it makes the delivery of adequate medical services nearly impossible. Alleviating overcrowding and providing adequate space as well as enough health care workers, would at least give the system a chance,” Ahmuty added.

    In the letter, Ahmuty reminded the legislators that “most prisoners will return to our communities.” He challenged them to envision a corrections system where prisoners have incentives to turn their lives around and follow the institution’s rules.

    “The proposed sentence modifications and other program changes are long overdue. The ACLU believes all Wisconsin residents and taxpayers would be better off if the Legislature adopts them,” Ahmuty concluded.

  3. What kinds of felons are you talking about? Someone convicted of growing marijuana for their personal use would be a “felon.” So would someone who wrote bad checks. Problem is, once they’re let go they’re unemployable because of the “felon” moniker.

    Now, let’s think about this: Are we law-abiding types better off if we deny ex-felons the opportunity to feed themselves? To become productive? If they fail to obtain employment, are we safer?

    Your reaction is understandable, but if you took some time to reflect on the problem rationally, you’d see that Doyle’s plan has some merit.

    Of course, I’m all ears if you’ve got a budget-saving alternative.

  4. “Ex-cons (and even current-cons) are already protected by state law against employment discrimination for past arrest or conviction record, which gives them a decent chance at getting a job with employers who are fearful of a lawsuit if they don’t hire them.”

    The law may state that employers can’t discriminate against felons, but what the law states and what really happens are often two different things.

  5. In answer to your question about Veterans being lumped in w/ex felons: YES, a little bit insulting. One group risks their lives to protect the freedom of others, while the other group shows a blatant disregard for the freedom of others. Sure, giving an equal incentive for hiring people from both groups sounds fair to me.

  6. what about the people that have been railroaded in wi prison systems dont they deserve a chance
    if you cant rehabilatate inside what are you suppose to do on the outside

    classes,programs and jobs are very hard to come by in the prisons so what are the guys in there going to do there no going to care anymore thats what

    at least with the early release program they have something to look forward to something to work at
    an in turn doing good inside will lead to a more productive outcome on the outside

  7. The EEOC does not protect felons from employment discrimination. Felons are forever branded. They must declare their convictions on every employment application. Why should they continue to be punished after they have paid their debt to society? Shame on all of you for not being willing to give a felon a chance.

  8. E.F (convicted Felon)

    May 11, 2009 at 8:43 pm

    Cathy you are very much mistaken, the EEOC does in fact protect against discrimination based on criminal offense. Check out Wisconsin’s Fair Employment Act. For all other’s you very well should be ashamed of yourselves, discrimination will not be tolerated. You believe you are all innocent, It’s you who mark these people and brand them, they have paid there dept to society and yet you don’t let it go. Some I understand don’t ever change, but what about though’s who have and will in the future? Are you just going to write them off? Here’s the consequeses if you do. 1.) More crime, would you just sit there and let your family starve and go without? No you would do what it took to make sure they are ok. 2.) Taxes get higher got to support them in prison, and there families on public housing, food stamps, health care. Wouldn’t it just be easier to give them a shot in the work place? Let them make something of them self’s. Be a plus for society; have them pay taxes, rather than a drag on everyone’s economy. Stop being so judgmental, everyone has made mistakes. When you make a mistake do you want and expect forgiveness after paid for it. Well you should give them the forgiveness you would expect.

  9. I agree that felons are looked down on by society. But i am a felon. There is no excuse for what i have done, which was theft over 1000 burglary and vandalism. But that being said i served 11 months and 29 days in jail and 9 years probation. After going to jail i completely turned my life around. I got married and had two beautiful children. Went to college and maintained public employeement until march at which time i was laid off due to the economic downturn. Since then i have been unable to attain public employeement due to my criminal convictions. Yes i know about the eeoc but in tennessee it does not give me beeter chances for a job than anyone. It actually hurts me from getting a job. I beleive there needs to be new law legislation to people that have done wrong but changed. Excluding child molesters and such. I do beleive felons need a second chance on a case by case situation.

  10. How would you feel, if the government branded everyone, by their biggest mistake. That way people could just read your face to make a decision on whether or not to give you a chance.

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