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Wisconsin Lawmakers Testify On Bills Aimed At Reducing Crime

Hearing On Republican Bills Includes Imposing Mandatory Minimum Sentences

Wisconsin State Capitol
Justin Kern (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Republican lawmakers are out with what they call a “Crime Prevention Package.”

Sen. Leah Vukmir, R- Brookfield, and Rep. Joe Sanfelippo, R-New Berlin, testified Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee on eight bills they authored for the package. Three of the bills are aimed at crimes committed by juveniles.

“I am angered by the countless and endless accounts of Wisconsinites who have been victimized by individuals who have such little regard for the law or just simple human decency,” Vukmir said.

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Sanfelippo said the bills aren’t meant to cast a wide net, but rather focus on a small segment of offenders.

“There’s a clear distinction between people that enter our criminal justice system between those who make a minor mistake, make it once, learn from their mistakes and don’t commit again, versus people who are habitually going through our system time after time,” Sanfelippo said.

One of the bills could lengthen the time juveniles convicted of serious crimes are kept in secure correctional facilities, such as Lincoln Hills. Another bill would expand which crimes could result in juveniles being locked up. Crimes committed by offenders, regardless of age, would be subject to mandatory minimum sentences, something Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, opposed.

“What purpose is there in society spending extra money to keep a person in prison and taking the (sentencing) decision away from the judge?” Risser asked.

Risser and Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, joined Republicans in supporting a bill related to expunging certain offenses committed before age 25.

“The concept, I think, is (a) good try to bring people back into society,” said Risser, a co-author of said bill.

The eight bills the two Republicans introduced are just a start. “The package of bills before you is simply the beginning of our effort to combat our rising crime issues and to make law abiding citizens our first priority,” Vukmir said.

At the legislative hearing, Vukmir said the Uniform Crime Report compiled by the U.S. Department of Justice shows that from 2011 to 2015, Wisconsin saw a 72 percent increase in murder, 2 percent increase in sexual assaults and 13 percent increase in robberies.

“As crime is soaring in my neighborhood, we are prisoners in our own homes, yet the ones who should be in prison have freedom. Let that sink in,” Vukmir said.

Although national crime rates as a whole have dropped in recent years, Vukmir said, “Sadly, Wisconsin’s have risen.”

The long-term trend, however, has been downward, and the crime rate in Wisconsin for 2017 is expected to be lower, according to a Wisconsin Crime Statistics and Rates Report.