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County opposes corrections bills

Douglas County is taking a stand against a pair of bills that could increase the workload on courts and incarceration in Wisconsin.

Senate Bill 54 and Assembly Bill 94 would require the Department of Corrections to recommend revocation of extended supervision, probation or parole of anyone under supervision when a new crime is charged.

According to the resolution adopted Thursday night by the Douglas County Board, the bills would add about 5,570 cases to the court system and increase annual costs for the corrections system by about $149,000, and increased operating and construction costs in the first year are estimated at $51 million.

It would also take away the assumption of innocent until proven guilty, said Supervisor Keith Allen, who proposed amending the resolution to reflect that due process is circumvented by the measure.

"I support it simply because it doesn't allow for 'due process' to play out, which is that anyone charged with a crime is presumed innocent until proven guilty," Allen wrote in a memo to the board, proposing the amendment. "This assumes that the individuals are guilty until proven innocent."

Supervisor Sue Hendrickson questioned whether the bills would include misdemeanor charges.

"It could be a misdemeanor or felony," District Attorney Mark Fruehauf said.

"They would lose their probation for a misdemeanor," Hendrickson said. "I'm glad were opposing this. That's baloney."

Allen said it isn't right that someone on supervised release should be sent to jail or prison just because he or she is charged with a new crime.

Board Chairman Mark Liebaert said amendments have been made to the proposed legislation and questioned whether the board wanted to refer the resolution back to committee, but the Board continued to amend the resolution and adopt it.

An amendment to the Senate bill replaces the word "crime" with "felony or violent misdemeanor." The Assembly bill was amended to exclude criminal traffic offenses. Both bills have been referred to the Joint Committee on Finance.

"You're innocent until proven guilty," Allen said. He said he supported the resolution as written, but thought it important to include language that recognizes people's rights.

"The way it's set up now, you can be revoked from probation if you are charged with a new crime before you're convicted of that new crime," Fruehauf said. He said a hearing would be held, upholding the right to due process, but what the law changes is discretion. The Department of Corrections would be required to seek revocation, taking away discretion.

"Without a corresponding increase in prison space or probation resources, there is a serious funding issue with the bill as written," Fruehauf said.