Shankland Column: Portage County Shouldn’t Be Dumping Ground for Sexually Violent People

By Rep. Katrina Shankland, for the Stevens Point City Times

Over the past year, Portage County residents have seen some of the state’s most violent sexual offenders released into their communities, seemingly at random. This is not only unfair, it is wrong. I share our community’s fears and frustrations and am doing everything I can to fight for you and your family.

My office received its first phone call about the placement of a Sexually Violent Person (SVP) in the Town of Alban in December of 2016. Since then, there has been a second SVP placed in Alban whose release was revoked, another pending placement in Alban, and three pending placements in the Town of Lanark. To my knowledge, Portage County has experienced more out-of-county SVPs in the last year than any other county in the state.

Contrary to some misconceptions, SVPs are not typical sex offenders. SVPs are unique in that the state has determined them to have a mental disorder predisposing them to sexual aggression, causing them to be committed to a secure treatment facility after their release from prison. When SVPs are deemed rehabilitated, they are eligible for supervised release, and the state is charged with identifying a secure residence for them. But due to shortcomings in state law, SVPs from densely-populated counties are increasingly being shipped to rural communities – like the Towns of Alban and Lanark in Portage County.

Sheriff Mike Lukas and District Attorney Louis Molepske have joined me in fighting against these placements every step of the way. Last February, DA Molepske and I testified together before the Chippewa County Court against placing an SVP in the Town of Alban, who was to reside across the street from the Central Wisconsin Electric Cooperative (CWEC). I showed the judge on a map how close the CWEC’s community room, which is used for pancake breakfast and Toys for Tots drives, would be to the SVP’s house. The judge told us that statewide standards made it impossible for him to find a single suitable residence in Chippewa County, which is why the offender would be sent to Portage County.

As a member of the legislature’s budget committee, I worked across the aisle to change that. I authored a budget motion with Rep. Mark Born (R-Beaver Dam) that would have required all SVPs to be placed in their home counties and restored decision-making for SVP placements to local officials. Our bipartisan proposal passed the budget committee, the Senate, and the Assembly – but Governor Walker vetoed the plan in September. To be clear, Portage County would not have any pending SVPs today if it were not for Governor Walker’s veto.

The vetoed proposal has been reintroduced as a separate bill, but Governor Walker has made it clear that he will veto it again. While the State Senate has amended the bill to make it easier for the governor to partially veto it, this would threaten the long-term constitutionality of the SVP program – which could ultimately lead to SVPs being released onto the street sooner without state supervision. The State Assembly recognized this and has sent the Senate a clean bill twice. The solution to our out-of-county SVP problem now rests in the hands of the Senate and Governor.

I have spoken with Governor Walker, his staff, the Department of Health Services (DHS), legislators from both parties, law enforcement, attorneys, and judges on this issue, and I will do everything possible to stop the state from using Portage County as the dumping ground for SVPs from all over Wisconsin. It’s time for Governor Walker and the State Senate to reject politics and pass our bipartisan solution. It couldn’t be more urgent.