Criminal justice leaders create historic plan to begin fixing a broken system

Published: Dec. 13, 2018 at 9:30 PM CST
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Wisconsin criminal justice leaders made history Thursday, presenting Gov.-elect Evers with a budget plan like never before. They have all decided to come together, share what they have, and ask for what they do not for the good of the group. That means funding for assistant district attorneys, assistance for public defenders, and more crime lab analysts among other things. They believe the plan can begin to rebuild a broken system.

"Everything works together," said Portage County District Attorney and president of the District Attorneys Association Louis Molepske. He describes the criminal justice system like a three legged stool.

"Take a leg away, it fails, so the system fails and that's really where we're going," he said. In this case, every leg is grossly understaffed and fighting for the same funding.

"What's happened in the past is someone says something right here, and then they go behind the door and they say, 'hey governor, just give me this.' Well, that's, that can happen, right? That's lobbying, but what it does is it really short changes the system," he said.

The legs have decided to work together to present a plan to the incoming administration that will increase staff throughout the state and levels of the system.

Currently, under staffing in all departments is delaying everything: it takes longer to investigate cases, to prosecute, to defend, and to get to sentencing. During that delay, people are sitting in jails longer and overcrowding them, victims are left without justice, and taxpayers are footing the bill and no one feels good about it.

"Then all we do is we put the round peg in the round whole, the square in the square and we hope it all matches up and just push them through the system and hope for the best," Molepske said, "and that's just, that just leads to bad outcomes."

He explained evidence-based practices, like putting certain people through diversion court so they can get the treatment they need to get the on the right path does not happen as often as it maybe could.

He said they sometimes they submit charges for a case, only to learn after forensic analysis comes in later finding that there is not enough evidence to prosecute.

"If we don't have a good forensic case, they're going to tell us and we won't prosecute that case," he said. "That's really important to protect the defendant's rights, protect the victim's rights, don't revictimize the victim, be up front and say, 'this isn't a good case.'"

Prosecuting a case without good evidence also takes resources away from other cases that need attention.

Molepske said leaders in both parties in the state, including the incoming governor and attorney general, are interested in this criminal justice coalition budget spreading the funds more evenly.

"We can assist you on focusing on persons, not prisons by focusing on the people in these positions because give us the time, give us the resources, pay these people properly to give you better outcomes," he urged.

Criminal justice spending accounts for less than two percent of the state's budget according to the proposal. The budget they presented Thursday is for the next two years and totals $52.8 million.