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Republican State Attorney General Brad Schimel says Democratic candidates for governor are “irresponsible” to call for cutting the state’s prison population in half.

Those campaigning on slashing the state’s growing prison population by half include Kelda Roys and Mike McCabe. Roys has said she wants to do so in just four years.

Schimel, who is seeking re-election this fall, told reporters Monday that he’s “stunned at the irresponsible proposals being made” in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. He said Department of Corrections data show 67 percent of current Wisconsin prison inmates committed at least one violent offense.

“The proposals to reduce the prison population by one-half will necessarily require the release of violent offenders,” Schimel said.

Asked if the state needs to build another prison to accommodate its swelling prisoner ranks, Schimel said it’s up to the Department of Corrections. But he said it’s important to avoid prison overcrowding.

“If we need to a build a new prison, then we should do it,” Schimel said.

Asked if the state should resume the practice of housing some inmates in private prisons, Schimel said that’s also a decision for the Department of Corrections.

“There’s no reason why a privately operated prison couldn’t be a safe place to house and rehabilitate offenders,” Schimel said.

Roys and McCabe responded by noting that Minnesota has a much lower incarceration rate than Wisconsin, despite having similar demographics and about as many residents.

“Responsibly reducing Wisconsin’s prison population will improve public safety — which is why Republicans and Democrats all over the country are getting smarter on criminal justice reform,” Roys said.

McCabe spokeswoman Christine Welcher said Wisconsin “needs to stop locking up nonviolent offenders and should emphasize sentencing alternatives to imprisonment and focus more on mental health and drug-addiction treatment as Minnesota does.”

The state’s current approach “only dooms us to a state budget that spends more on prisons than on the entire university system. That’s not tough on crime, it’s dumb on crime,” Welcher said.

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Mark Sommerhauser covers state government and politics for the Wisconsin State Journal.