The number of felony court cases opened in Wisconsin soared 18 percent over the five-year period that ended in 2016, according to state statistics.
The increase would have been even greater had not a 9 percent drop in Milwaukee County felony cases help offset the statewide jump.
The number of felony cases opened statewide increased by 6,068, from 33,103 in 2011 to 39,171 in 2016.
In Milwaukee County, in contrast, the number of felony cases opened fell by 578, from 6,121 in 2011 to 5,543 in 2016.
The figures count cases, not individual charges, and include cases in which the most serious charge is a felony.
An increase in the number of drug possession charges helped drive the statewide increase, but an even bigger factor was a jump in the number of felony bail jumping cases opened. Statewide, the number rose from 4,027 in 2011 to 7,034 in 2016, an increase of 3,007, or 75 percent.
In Milwaukee County, the number of felony bail jumping case rose 5 percent, from 249 to 262.
Bail jumping accounted for 18 percent of felony cases opened statewide last year, but just about five percent of felonies opened in Milwaukee County.
Felony bail jumping is criticized by defense lawyers as a charge issued by some prosecutors seeking to coerce a plea in the underlying case. Felony bail jumping carries a maximum penalty of six years in prison and the charge can be issued for non-criminal activity, such as missing a drug test or having a drink in violation of an absolute sobriety condition of bail.
The number of felony drug possession cases grew 41 percent statewide from 2011 to 2016, from 4,955 to 6,984. Milwaukee County saw a 42 percent decline in felony drug cases, 1,572 to 905.
Milwaukee County's largest increase came in an "other felony" category, up 405% from 2011 to 2016, from 125 to 631 cases opened. Felony traffic cases were up 44%, from 252 to 363 cases.
Felony Cases Opened, Wisconsin and Milwaukee County, 2011 to 2016
Gretchen Schuldt is executive director of the Wisconsin Justice Initiative.
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