By Gretchen Schuldt
Courts in the state's smallest counties generally saw their criminal case backlogs swell as COVID-19 swept across Wisconsin. While the numbers of cases heard in the state's five smallest counties are much, much smaller than those in the five largest counties, the backlogs in some of the small counties grew at faster rates.
WJI examined the numbers of pending cases in the state's five largest counties here. This post, using Wisconsin Court System statistics from December 2019 and 2020, looks at pending cases in the five smallest counties, as measured by population. We'll finish up by looking at five counties with populations that fall in the middle of the populations of the state's 72 counties.
Forest County population: 9,179
Biggest change: The number of pending felony cases shot up by 160, or 205%. Misdemeanor and criminal traffic cases, which started at lower baselines, rose 342% and 388%, respectively.
Of note: The total number of pending cases rose 254%, the largest increase in the 15 counties considered.
Median age of pending cases: 2019 – 112 days; 2020 – 150 days, up 34%.
Pepin County population: 7,318
Biggest change: The number of pending felony cases rose from 19 to 22, an increase of 16%. In the percent category, the number of pending criminal traffic cases fell from five to four, a decrease of 20%.
The numbers in Pepin County are so small, however, it is difficult to determine how much significance should be attached to the changes.
Of note: The median age of pending cases declined by 18%, one of just two counties among the 15 reviewed where the median age went down.
Median age of pending cases: 2019 – 148 days; 2020 – 22 days, down 18%.
Iron County population: 6,137
Biggest change: The number of pending felony cases rose from 25 to 40, an increase of 60%. . Pending criminal traffic cases rose by 120%, from five to 11. That is the largest percentage increase among the categories.
Of note: The median age of the pending cases grew 63%, tops among the small-population counties.
Median age of pending cases: 2019 – 114 days; 2020 – 186 days, up 63%.
Florence County population: 4,558
Biggest change: The number of pending felony cases jumped from eight to 16, tops as measured in percentages.
Of note: Florence County had no pending criminal traffic cases in 2019 and just one in 2020.
Median age of pending cases: 2019 – 106 days; 2020 – 150 days, up 42%.
Menominee County population: 4,255
Biggest change: The median age of pending cases rose by 118 days, or 62%. In the percent category, the number of pending misdemeanor cases rose 67%, but from just six to 10.
Of note: The median age of pending cases of 307 days in 2020 was the longest among the 15 counties considered. The statewide median for all 72 counties was 170 days.
Median age of pending cases: 2019 – 189 days; 2020 – 307 days, up 42%.
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