MADISON (WKOW) — Republican lawmakers want to spend $50 million in the next state budget to reform the criminal justice system.
One main focus is on supporting district attorney offices by adding 60 prosecutors across Wisconsin.
Since he took office in 2010, Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne has been asking for a dozen more assistant district attorney positions every budget season, to meet a growing caseload.
“Being the second-largest, fastest-growing county, we’re still at 1985 staffing levels,” he said.
Ozanne says the extra cases slow down the court system and limit the help DA staff can provide.
“The cases get spread out across the office and each attorney gets to do more,” he told 27 News. “Where it really impacts is with victims. We don’t get to spend as much time with victims. We don’t get to interact with them as soon as we could and cases slow down because you can only do one trial at a time for [each] prosecutor.”
Republican lawmakers announced plans Monday to address the issue, to save the courts time and money and bring faster resolution for victims. They’re asking Gov. Evers to include their plan in his budget.
“These initiatives are tough but smart on crime,” said Beaver Dam state Rep. Mark Born.
Dodge County District Attorney Kurt Klomberg says it’s an issue statewide.
“Current caseload demands for Wisconsin prosecutors have created backlogs in many Wisconsin counties and have left victims waiting for resolution of their cases,” he said.
DA Ozanne says his team could do much more with additional lawyers. He’d like to focus on alternatives to prosecution through specialty programs, like drug treatment.
“I think if you could actually do that, you could also have more counties look at real diversion programs and actually look to make thoughtful decisions, versus really just trying to keep pace with what’s coming in the door, which is then just processing people,” Ozanne said.
The proposal would also raise the pay for state public defenders, in hopes of encouraging more attorneys to take up cases for people who can’t afford a lawyer.
Officials say trying to find a defense attorney can be a challenge because the pay is so low.
“Counties are paying more to detain people who are still presumed innocent and in some counties, they are paying for attorneys at county expense to keep the case moving forward,” said state public defender Kelli Thompson.
The budget proposal would raise that base pay to $70 an hour.
State Supreme Court Chief Justice Patience Drake Roggensack issued a statement saying the plan would “support essential constitutional guarantees.”