Victim prevention must be a Wisconsin priority

By Leah Vukmir and Joe Sanfelippo

 

Originally posted in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Between 2011 and 2015, arrests in Wisconsin decreased 20%.

Some might instinctively attribute that statistic to an increase in public safety, but that fails to tell the story of the growing number of victims. While arrest rates are down, violent crimes have risen.

In 2011, Wisconsin saw 139 devastating homicides. In 2015, that number tragically reached 240, a 72.6% increase in murder. Sexual assaults increased 2%, robberies 13%, aggravated assaults 21.5%, and motor vehicle thefts jumped an astonishing 50% from 2013. These are more than just numbers, these are the lives of victims who have been impacted by traumatic injustices.

Wisconsin continues to improve its diversion outreach to offenders who demonstrate a need for rehabilitation as an alternative to prison. Conversely, we are sitting idly watching violent crime skyrocket. As a result of system failures, we allow violent criminals who have victimized our communities in the most egregious manner the ability to continue to do so.

As the use of probation and emphasis on rehabilitation reduces our prison population, we have unfortunately emboldened violent criminals. Disturbingly, 39.4% of violent criminals return to prison following release for a prior conviction.

Of the 7,689 individuals released from prison in 2011, 31.4% committed a new crime by 2014. Simply stated, almost one out of every three people released from prison commits a new crime, resulting in more victims.

As legislators responsible for enacting laws that aim to improve the quality of our communities, we must avoid policies that produce unintended consequences, particularly those that endanger the citizenry. In our quest to rehabilitate all offenders, we need to acknowledge that some criminals will not alter their behavior — specifically, those who commit violent acts.

It is imperative we improve our ability to differentiate between low-risk offenders and those criminals who terrorize our neighborhoods. We must not neglect to concede that failure to imprison those who pose a great risk to the public often leads to more victims.

Wisconsin has made significant strides by offering alternatives to incarceration, and these diversion programs provide a substantial societal benefit. We have brought awareness to our growing mental health population and have expanded treatment opportunities for drug addiction, and we should not diminish these efforts.

Our approach to criminal justice should be a two-pronged philosophy. Embracing alternatives to incarceration and ensuring violent repeat offenders are unable to victimize a community by removing these dangerous individuals from our streets is essential.

In the coming days, we will be introducing a legislative package that focuses on reducing violent crime. Public safety is our priority. We will no longer ignore victims. Victim prevention, achieved by incarcerating individuals who truly belong in prison, is a successful outcome.

While the cost of imprisonment is a burden to taxpayers, our families pay a far greater cost when their loved ones are murdered, assaulted, raped, robbed, carjacked and deprived of a personal sense of security. We must prevent our communities from being threatened by those who continually commit violent crimes. We can no longer tolerate such behavior. Action is necessary.

Leah Vukmir, a Brookfield Republican, serves as assistant majority leader of the Wisconsin State Senate and represents the 5th Senate District. Joe Sanfelippo, a Republican from New Berlin, represents the 15th Assembly District.