By Gretchen Schuldt
State legislators have introduced a package of drunk-driving proposals that would increase minimum prison terms for people with five or six drunk driving convictions and criminalize first-offense drunk driving, which now is considered a civil ordinance violation.
Another bill would impose financial penalties on some alleged first-time offenders that are not levied on those charged criminally with operating while intoxicated second offense or greater.
Currently, those convicted of their fifth- or sixth-offense drunk driving offense face a minimum of six months' incarceration and a $600 fine. The bill would require a prison term of at least 18 months.
The Wisconsin Justice Initiative on Wednesday lent its support to a bipartisan bill that would reform Wisconsin's criminal record expunction process:
“This is a good first step in criminal justice reform in Wisconsin. It is much-needed and positive legislation," WJI Executive Director Gretchen Schuldt said. "We hope that bipartisan cooperation continues when it comes to other measures that will reduce mass incarceration and the burdensome collateral consequences of criminal convictions."
The bill would eliminate the existing discriminatory provision that a person must be under the age of 25 when he or she committed the crime to have the record qualify for expungement. Current law also requires that the presiding judge, at the time of sentencing, find the offense eligible for expungement.
The bill would allow an offender, after completing his or her sentence, to petition the court for expungement. The bill also would retroactively apply to people convicted before the bill's adoption.
The bill also would allow a sentencing judge to order that an offender's record not be eligible for expungement.
Records of crimes carrying a penalty of six years in prison or less would be eligible for expunction, though records for some crimes, including violent crimes, would not be eligible.
By Gretchen Schuldt
The number of possession of marijuana cases filed in Milwaukee Municipal Court fell 17 percent from 2017 to 2018, court records show.
There were a total of 994 adult and juvenile possession of marijuana charges opened in 2017 and 824 in 2018, according to the figures. That is a year-to-year decline of 170 cases.
The caseload reflects police activity, but is not a total count of arrests, as some cases may get dismissed before they get to court.
In November, 75 percent of City of Milwaukee voters supported legalization of recreational marijuana. Some 52 cases were filed that month. In December, however, 134 cases were filed, the most since November, 2017.
Milwaukee County has been awarded a $2.3 million Safety and Justice Challenge Grant from the MacArthur Foundation to continue efforts to reduce inmate populations at the County Jail and House of Correction.
The two-year grant will run through December 31, 2020. The county received an earlier $2 million grant in 2016.
Milwaukee County Chief Judge Maxine White said in a memo the new grant will focus on technical assistance, refined case processing, mental health diversion, reentry coordination, enhanced data capacity, and community engagement.
The MacArthur steering committee complimented stakeholders on efforts made thus far to reduce the combined jail / House of Correction population of roughly 2,000 to 2,100 county inmates.
"The committee believes, however, that Milwaukee's efforts to reduce the pretrial population could be strengthened significantly by incorporating concrete strategies to directly address the deficiencies in case processing," Senior MacArthur Program Manager Patrick Griffin wrote in a an award letter.
Milwaukee should seek technical assistance to draw up management plans and new strategies to reform the process, he said.
"Additionally, the steering committee believes Milwaukee can develop a stronger strategy to address violations in revocations of community supervision," he wrote.
Racial disparities also must be addressed, he said. The county and other grant participant should analyze to understand how strategies and projected population reductions will affect people of color.
By Gretchen Schuldt
Wisconsin keeps more people on parole longer than most other states, and more parole terms end with incarceration here than in other states, according to a report released Tuesday by the Columbia Justice Lab.
“Our report contains troubling findings that Wisconsin is wasting money and wasting lives by supervising and violating thousands of people not for new crimes, but for technical violations of supervision,” Vincent Schiraldi, co-director of the Justice Lab and former Commissioner of New York City Probation, said in a prepared statement. “Wisconsin should now follow the example of dozens of states and focus community supervision resources on those most in need of it, stop returning people to prison for ‘ticky-tack’ rule violations, and use the savings from such reforms to fund programs and opportunities that help people turn their lives around.”
Below are highlights from the report, "The Wisconsin Community Corrections Story." The language generally taken straight from the document (omitting citations).
By Gretchen Schuldt
All they want to do is get married, but those wedding bells have been tough to come by.
Wendy Sisavath and Victoriano Heredia, an inmate at Wisconsin's Fox Lake Correctional Institution. have been trying for almost a year to get someone at the prison to get involved so they can do what they need to do to get down the aisle and exchange vows.
They filed the original paperwork in February or March of last year and are no closer to the altar than they were then.
"We are banging our heads against the wall," Sisavath said.
DOC spokesman Tristan Cook said in a November email that the agency was actively reviewing the wedding request.
'"Inmate Heredia’s social worker is working with him," Cook wrote. Cook has since left his job.
DOC did not respond to a follow-up email sent Friday.
Heredia got a new social worker in November, his third since June. This latest social worker, Sisavath said, insisted "'I don't do the marriage thing. It goes through the chaplain.'"
Getting hitched in prison is way more complicated than getting married on the outside; the Department of Corrections' inmate marriage policy is five pages long. Among other things, it requires extensive counseling for every couple. Officials at the prison must approve the counselor.
Sisavath said she and Heredia first were told they would have to undergo six months of marriage counseling. Then, because Heredia is a lifer, prison officials changed the requirement to 12 months.
Heredia is required to have $2,000 on hand to cover counseling costs, including the cost of guards at the counseling sessions, even though the area is guarded anyway. That $2,000 is a problem in itself. Heredia doesn't have it in his available prison account, and if Sisavath were to give it to him, she would be unable to get it back if something happened and the marriage did not come off. Inmates are not allowed to send money from their accounts out of the institution.
By Gretchen Schuldt
A Forest County deputy overstepped when he searched a vehicle because the driver turned the car around at night within a mile of where another person fled a traffic stop, a Court of Appeals judge ruled Tuesday.
"We cannot conclude that (Brady R.) Adams’ driving late at night, one-half hour or more after a suspect had fled the scene of a traffic stop within the vicinity of an active police search for that suspect, paired with Adams’ turning around on a street with a dead end, would lead a reasonable officer to suspect that Adams had committed, was committing, or was about to commit a crime, or any wrongdoing for that matter," District III Court of Appeals Judge Mark A. Seidl wrote in his opinion.
In reversing Forest County Circuit Judge Leon D. Stenz, Seidl threw out Adams' conviction for second offense drunk driving and sent the matter back to Circuit Court.
Sheriff's Deputy William Hujet testified in Circuit Court that he was looking for a person who fled a traffic stop when another deputy passed the word that a car was approaching. Adams was that car's driver. Hujet began to follow him.
The Wisconsin Justice Initiative on Friday asked Attorney General Josh Kaul to conduct a review of the Department of Justice's investigation into the abuses inflicted on youths held at the Lincoln Hills/Copper Lake juvenile prisons.
"There are serious questions about the thoroughness of that investigation and whether DOJ ever intended to identify and prosecute abusers and those who authorized the excesses that occurred at the facilities," WJI Executive Director Gretchen Schuldt wrote to Kaul. "Will the state allow those people to continue in their careers as if nothing happened?"
WJI also recommended that Kaul seek outside assistance for the review.
"Unfortunately, through no fault of your own, DOJ's credibility is totally compromised when it comes to Lincoln Hills/Copper Lake," she wrote.
Read the full letter here.
Youths at the facilities were pepper-sprayed, chained to tables, and held for long stretches in solitary confinement. The state settled a class-action ACLU lawsuit by agreeing to end many of the practices, and is moving, very slowly, to close the facilities.
Former Attorney General Brad Schimel, now a Waukesha County circuit judge, said his agency was investigating potential wrongdoing by staff, but did very little to try to stop it. Schimel said the FBI took over the investigation, and it is unclear what, if anything, federal investigators did to further the probe.
By Gretchen Schuldt
Correctional officers and sergeants logged 1.8 million hours of overtime at adult facilities last year at a cost of almost $51 million, according to a new Department of Corrections report.
That amounts to 34,714 hours a week, or 3,001 hours more per week than the overtime worked by all DOC workers in 2015-16, according to a 2017-19 budget paper prepared by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau. Security staff worked an average of 28,235 hours per week overtime in 2015-16, according to the LFB.
Almost half of last year's overtime was attributable to employees plugging holes when positions were vacant, according to DOC. The new figures cover the year ending July 1.
Correctional officers and sergeants at Dodge Correctional Institution, a maximum-security prison for men, recorded a total of 212,734 overtime hours at a total cost of $6.2 million, tops in the adult system, according to the report. Some 67 percent of that was due to staff vacancies, the report said.
Overall, system wide, position vacancies required 844,195 hours of overtime at a cost of $24.6 million, according to the report. That is 47 percent of the hours and cost of overtime.
Other reasons for overtime including sick leave, construction project detail, assisting inmates with medical visits, trips, and training, according to the report.
Gov. Tony Evers took office this week vowing to reduce prison populations. Some legislators want to build additional facilities, though the state cannot staff the ones they have.
In May, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 920 jobs at state prisons were empty, a 12.5 percent vacancy rate.
By Gretchen Schuldt
Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Kristy Yang will move at the end of this month from presiding over misdemeanors to handling juvenile cases, Milwaukee County Chief Judge Maxine White ordered Friday.
Yang's tenure in misdemeanor court was marked by a large number of substitutions filed against her. For the year ended July 31, for example, 227 substitutions were filed against Yang, while just five were filed against Circuit Judge Jean Kies and 40 were filed against Circuit Judge Hannah Dugan, both of whom also served in misdemeanor court.
New judge Daniel Gabler, meanwhile, will spend just a few weeks in Children's Court before taking over Yang's misdemeanor calendar. His stint in Children's Court begins Monday and ends Jan. 28, when he takes over Yang's misdemeanor calendar.
Paul Dedinsky, a former Children's Court prosecutor, will return as a judge to that same court.
Gabler and Dedinsky were appointed to the bench by Gov. Scott Walker.
Gabler, a former assistant district attorney, ran unsuccessfully for judge as a tough-on-crime candidate in 2009. He won the primary, but lost support when he ran an ad accusing judges of being lazy and portrayed two election opponents – one a career prosecutor – as having records of defending accused criminals.
He also ran into trouble when he failed to show up for court on a case, leading to the dismissal of felony drug charges against the defendant. Gabler said he was busy with another case, but others said he may have been involved in a non work-related matter. There were two other court cases where Gabler-related errors got the DA's office in hot water, according to the MIlwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Gabler lost the general election to J.D. Watts.
Walker appointed Gabler to head the Parole Commission in 2017. Under Gabler's leadership, the commission was best known for its stinginess in granting parole. In 2017, for example, 181 inmates were released on parole, according to the Department of Corrections.
Dedinsky has worked since May 2017 as chief legal counsel for the State Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. He was a Milwaukee County assistant district attorney for 20 years prior to that, a job that included serving as the Milwaukee Public Schools restorative justice coordinator from 2008 to 2014.
White's order Friday follows an earlier shuffling announced in November.
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