Editorial Roundup: Wisconsin

Wisconsin State Journal. October 18, 2021.

Editorial: Never accept the epidemic of gunplay

The scourge of gunfire and carjackings in Madison is unacceptable and must never become normal for our growing and vibrant city.

The causes and solutions may be complicated. But the need for more attention and action is clear — from our leaders and ourselves.

This can’t go on. Nor can we become numb to the violence and death.

Though overall offenses and calls for police service in Madison were down 5% last year during the pandemic, homicides more than doubled to 10. Shots fired increased 74% to 250. Stolen vehicles increased 16% to 744. Burglaries were up 22% to 1,316. Weapon violations jumped 18% to 191.

Madison is still a safe city when compared to other communities of similar size. We shouldn’t forget that. And police say some progress has been made over the summer on crime prevention. But gun violence remains far too prevalent and heading in a disturbing direction.

Police warned Thursday that a spree of carjackings on Madison’s Southwest Side were becoming more “brazen.” The day before that, a 15-year-old Fitchburg boy was in court on charges he shot and killed his 11-year-old sister. The day before that, a 26-year-old man was arrested in the town of Madison in the shooting of a 41-year-old man in Fitchburg. The day before that, a 34-year-old Sun Prairie man pleaded guilty to shooting and killing another man through his front door.

On Sept. 17, a 20-year-old Madison man was sentenced for the shooting death of a former classmate at a Far East Side gas station. On Labor Day, a 20-year-old was shot to death on the Far East Side — the same day a 64-year-old was shot multiple times at Penn Park on the South Side. The Penn Park victim died two weeks later.

This isn’t just a Madison problem. Gunfire on a single night in Milwaukee this month left at least three people dead and six injured in separate shootings. Milwaukee counts 160 homicides so far this year, putting it on pace to break last year’s high of 190. Trauma surgeons and funeral directors say they’re overwhelmed, according to WTMJ-TV (Ch. 4).

Across the country, homicides increased nearly 30% last year. And more of the victims were children and toddlers, according to the Gun Violence Archive. About 1,375 minors were shot to death last year — a 33% increase — and this year is on pace to be worse.

Emergency room visits for firearm injuries across the country were up 73% last fall, according to health care data from Epic Systems in Verona.

What to do?

Wisconsin communities have wisely resisted irresponsible calls to “defund police.” Madison and other cities don’t need fewer law enforcement officers. We need better trained police to deescalate dangerous situations, to recognize mental illness, to connect more with citizens and avoid unfair bias.

La Crosse and Milwaukee police, for example, are now responding to mental health crises in tandem with professional counselors. Madison and Dane County say they’re using a public health approach to respond to “extremely pervasive” violence. This includes better use of data and more coordination between law enforcement, schools and social service providers to try to prevent violence. It includes job training and opportunities for young people disconnected from school.

We must do more to reach young people suffering traumatic lives. Madison is enlisting peers, such as ex-offenders who have turned their lives around, to diffuse conflict and steer people back to civil society.

In Rockford, Illinois, where homicides and people injured in shootings have doubled, research shows 70% of violent teens have been exposed to domestic or sexual abuse. The city has launched a program that takes troubled offenders on trips into the woods to hike, camp and work as a team.

Wisconsin and America need more restrictions on guns, including background checks on all gun sales and “red flag” laws to disarm people when judges agree they pose imminent danger.

We need to fight homelessness, which can lead to desperate and dangerous decisions.

We should legalize small amounts of marijuana to undercut drug dealing.

Alternatives to incarceration should be considered for nonviolent and first-time offenders, as long as victims are treated fairly. And when innocent people are threatened by gun violence, we need police to arrest the perpetrators. We need judges to ensure rehabilitation, with help finding work once released.

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Kenosha News. October 18, 2021.

Editorial: Municipalities deserve a seat at the table regarding offender placements

It’s a safe assumption that nobody is going to relish the prospect of having to live in close proximity to a convicted flagrant sex offender.

We’re talking here about those convicted of serious crimes — violent sex assaults, assaults of children, distributors and consumers of child pornography. Not the 19-year-old convicted and punished for underage relations with his minor teenage girlfriend.

Yet once serious offenders have served their time in prison state law allows that they can be placed in or near the community from which they came. Notification is made to the local county and then disseminated to the public, usually as the wheels are in motion for imminent placement.

Understandably, the notifications can cause alarm in a community, as they did in May when Salem Lakes officials learned in the 11th hour that two offenders were to be released to live in the Camp Lake area of the village.

Alerted by Village Administrator Mike Murdock, residents turned on en masse for public meetings. Village staff deftly determined that the placements were in violation of the village’s ordinance on placement as the residence selected was too close to a neighborhood park. Village officials went to Circuit Court and were able to block the placement of Dale H. Peshek and Brian T. Threlkeld.

Peshek, 48, was convicted in 1998 for the sexual assault of a 14-year-old boy in 1997 and with child enticement involving the same boy in 1995. Threlkeld was convicted in 2000 for the sexual assault of a 13-year-old boy, and, according to past news reports, admitted to assaulting others.

That’s the conundrum that offenders who have done their time find themselves in. Most municipalities have ordinances limiting where the convicted offenders can live. It’s a difficult problem to resolve and we have no easy answers for it. Essentially these past offenders, who rightfully are required to be on the state’s registry and check in regularly with their probation agents, are branded with a scarlet letter of sorts for the duration they are ordered on the registry, which for many is for life.

No doubt some offenders learned their lessons while in prison and strive for a new start and to become part of society again. But the registry also serves the vital role of helping to protect the public, especially our children, sex crime victims and the vulnerable.

That’s why the Kenosha County Board’s recent action to give municipalities earlier notification of sex offender placements deserves praise. The communities affected deserve input on the placements and to divert potential conflicts with local ordinances. These officials may very well have suggestions on where paroled offenders can live without causing undue alarm in the community.

The board’s resolution was researched thoroughly by county Supervisor Erin Decker, whose district includes Wheatland, where a similar placement order caused alarm in 2016 and led to changes in state statutes on placements.

“Right now the municipalities are not given a heads-up that this is going to happen until after the placement has been ordered by the court,” Decker said. “When they are looking for a place, they need to work with the municipalities to make sure that place fits the state statutes and it’s a good placement.”

The measure was approved by the County Board 17-6 with supervisors Andy Berg, John O’Day, John Franco, David Celebre, Ron Frederick and Edward Kubicki dissenting.

Berg is very much correct in noting the difficulty the paroled offenders face in finding placement.

“I know that when people do the crime, they’ve got to do the time,” Berg said. “When they get done with their time, they have to come back into our community somehow.”

But that is an issue that has to be figured out by a broader analysis by criminal justice experts, the courts, mental health professionals, state lawmakers and yes, local officials.

And while some will say the county resolution will be commandeered by “Nimbys” (Not in my back yarders,) we look at it as a tool that will increase transparency and serve the interest of public safety.

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Eau Claire Leader-Telegram. October 19, 2021.

Editorial: Inmates’ financial class worth supporting

Articles about what’s happening behind prison walls generally don’t draw a lot of attention unless it’s something gone terribly wrong. That’s a shame. Our article last week about a class at Chippewa Valley Correctional Treatment Facility is about something going very right.

Our society likes an approach to prisons that is pretty much convict and forget. It’s uncomfortable to think about why people in prison are there, what they’re doing while they’re incarcerated. It’s far easier to simply ignore them, to convince ourselves that the people there deserve whatever happens. That’s the wrong approach, though.

In all but the most serious cases, those who are locked up in prison are eventually going to leave. They’re going to be released.

The most recent report on prison releases from the Wisconsin Department of Corrections reinforces that reality: “Prison releases have followed approximately the same trend as admissions,” it said. That’s not new. Records show that Wisconsin’s releases have broadly followed admissions since the late 1970s.

Almost two-thirds of those released were between the ages of 20 and 39. They have decades ahead of them.

Most of the inmates return to a world they didn’t leave so very long ago, either. A majority “served less than two years in prison.” Only 10% served five years or more. Regardless of the length of the sentence, every inmate is going to have to make the massive adjustment to living where their every move isn’t regulated. It’s a difficult transition.

Yes, the people who have to make that transition are facing that challenge because of choices they made. But it’s in everyone’s best interest that they succeed. Our society is far better off if people can become law-abiding citizens and change their lives. Classes like the financial literacy program at CVCTF can help.

Financial literacy is another subject most people find uncomfortable. We don’t like talking about how we manage money as a society. It’s seen as somehow akin to the faux pas of asking someone how much they make. Few skills are as essential, though. Properly managing your personal finances reduces the likelihood of running headlong into a financial crisis, which can bring stress and desperation to just about anyone.

That’s important for everyone, but all the more so for those who are in the process of trying to rebuild their lives. One inmate who is scheduled for release next month praised the class as “a start” and said it gave him the basics for budgeting. The 90-minute weekly sessions are popular enough to have a waiting list.

Cooper Larson, the banker who currently teaches the class, called it “the best part of my job.” She’s not the only one impressed by the work. Officials say it has been effective at helping inmates gain the skills they need to be able to manage their money after release.

It’s not hard to see how a program like this could help people stay on their feet after being released from prison. It can be difficult for people to find jobs after their release, even though having a job is a known factor in reducing recidivism. And the jobs most former inmates find aren’t exactly going to be at the higher end of the pay scale.

Those realities make it more important that these people know how to handle the money they do make. Financial literacy is one of the best bets for being able to maintain some stability in the immediate aftermath of an inmate’s release. Over time, and with work, the prospects for those released may well improve. But they have to make it through those transitional years first.

There’s probably never going to be a perfect way to handle incarceration and the release of people back into society. Human nature suggests it’s always going to be a difficult step, both for the former inmates and for the general public. Steps that can help ease that process, like the financial literacy class, are a welcome step in the right direction.

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