Sentencing Policies and Practices in Wisconsin

Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Information

Michael M. O'Hear, Sentencing Policies and Practices in Wisconsin, in Oxford Handbooks Online in Criminology & Criminal Justice (Michael Tonry ed., 2016)

Source Publication

Oxford Handbooks Online in Criminology and Criminal Justice (2016)


This essay provides an overview of sentencing policies and practices in the state of Wisconsin and considers their impact on the state’s imprisonment rate. Current policies and practices are placed in historical context. Since 1980, state policy has increasingly emphasized the role of the local sentencing judge in determining punishment. Most importantly, a 1998 law ended discretionary parole, which had served as a check on the increasing severity of judge-imposed sentences. Although the state’s prison population remains near its record high of the mid-2000s, there seems little interest in adopting new restrictions on judicial sentencing discretion or otherwise restructuring the sentencing and corrections system in a fundamental way. The essay concludes by describing some more modest reforms that seem politically viable in the near term.