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Budget Cuts Could Force Wisconsin to Decriminalize 25 grams or less by July 1, 2013

In an effort to cut costs, it appears Wisconsin may becoming soft on crime.

Wisconsin Public Defenders Office

The State Public Defender’s Office is seeking alternatives to certain crimes. These changes would save the State over $7.7 million in the next biennial budget.

According to “Overview of State Agency Major Request Items”, a document put together by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, the Public Defender’s Office is looking to amend several crimes to become mere ordinance violations. One of those crimes…drug possession.

This is the exact wording of the proposal…

“Amend s. 961.41 of the statutes to provide that all first and second offense drug possession violations, other than for methamphetamine, involving 25 grams or less be reduced to an ordinance violation provided there is reasonable doubt that the individual was not manufacturing, distributing or delivering the drug.”

But it doesn’t stop there. The Public Defender’s Office wants to make further corrections to drug laws by making third time drug possession a misdemeanor charge.

“With low risk offenders, evidence based decision making shows they don’t need much intervention and that was the overlying theme to these issues,” Randy Kraft, Communications Director for the State Public Defender’s Office said.

Lieutenant David Poteat, Director of the Brown County Drug Task Force, calls the changes absurd.

“To say that they’re low risk offenders I don’t think is realistic. If you look at heroin in particular, that is tied to so much of our property crime in the area, it’s unreal. So people using heroin are also ones stealing from stores, stealing from homes, breaking into cars. It’s connected to so much other crime than just that,” Poteat stated.

The changes will not only cut down on 7,000 cases annually, but will reduce costs by an estimated $713,000 in 2013-14 and $1,426,000 in 2014-15.

“The justice system we have in Wisconsin does come at a price tag to our taxpayers,” Randy Kraft commented. “For us to fix some areas that need an increase in funding, we also have to identify issues where it would save monies as well.”

Kraft says in order to advance other programs, “the only way the agency could submit the increases was to identify corresponding decreases.”

Poteat disagrees.

“The Sheriff’s Department has a budget as well. Each department has to do their part to maintain that budget and keep costs down. We try to operate as efficiently as possible, but you cannot do that at the risk of the public.”

While the Public Defender’s Office is looking at decreasing the cost of crime, they’re also looking at increasing pay for assistant public defenders and private bar attorneys. The increase in salaries comes at a cost of over $9million.

But first State lawmakers must agree to the changes. If adopted, the law changes would become effective July 1, 2013.

Source:   GREEN BAY, Wisc. (WFRV)  http://wearegreenbay.com/

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