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MADISON - Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen participated in a press conference today in Waukesha, WI, to discuss the shortage of prosecutors throughout the state of Wisconsin. The following prepared remarks were delivered by Attorney General Van Hollen.
PREPARED REMARKS OF WISCONSIN
ATTORNEY GENERAL J.B. VAN HOLLEN
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Waukesha County Courthouse
I've been a prosecutor for almost my entire career. Prior to becoming Attorney General, I was an Assistant U.S. Attorney at the federal level, a District Attorney in two different counties and then the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Wisconsin. Just as it is essential to have law enforcement on the ground to respond to criminal activity and investigate crime, the work we do as trained, experienced, and professional prosecutors is fundamental to public safety in every part of this state.
It isn't enough to have laws on the books that criminalize sexual assault, domestic violence, crimes against children, or unlawful firearms possession. Those laws must be enforced. That takes people; law enforcement to investigate and prosecutors to prosecute. So, too, we must enforce our laws that criminalize non-violent crimes, such as identity theft, drug possession, and retail theft.
The work we do as prosecutors is more than showing up at trial. It involves
preparing for those trials;
participating in pretrial proceedings designed to ensure fair trials;
interviewing witnesses and victims;
working with law enforcement to ensure the thoroughness of investigations;
carefully evaluating criminal complaints for prosecutorial merit;
and notifying victims of their rights.
Our work is more than putting people behind bars. It includes
seeking restitution for victims;
making sure that only the right people are prosecuted;
ensuring that criminal proceedings are fair;
recommending appropriate sentences;
educating law enforcement;
and working with communities to develop non-traditional approaches aimed at reducing crime and recidivism.
Prosecutors are not zealous advocates for the state. They are advocates for justice.
But this work takes dedicated professionals. And, as a state, we don't have enough of those professionals. In July of last year, the Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau confirmed something that most of us who have dedicated our lives to this mission knew. Prosecutors' offices throughout the state are significantly understaffed. Using a weighted caseload formula, the report showed that the state is understaffed by 132 prosecutors.
And though the dedicated professionals that make up district attorneys' offices throughout the state are committed to doing their job and doing it well, this strain on resources creates a situation where prosecutors must spend their time reactively, spending too much of their time, during business hours and after, doing what they must do and not enough of what they can and should do to protect public safety and victim's rights.
Unfortunately, the strain on prosecutor resources is only growing. Recent cuts to federal funds are exacerbating a situation that is already critical. I believe that the primary reason state and local government exists is for public safety. Without public safety personnel, those who act lawlessly infringe upon the freedoms of those who act lawfully. Business activity declines and communities are fractured.
Public safety is a priority that should be reflected in how taxpayer money is spent. This includes adequate funding of our prosecutors, our law enforcement officers, and others who directly enhance public safety everyday. Budget shortfalls are not an excuse to underfund budget priorities, but rather an opportunity to reexamine what it is we believe that government should do and spend limited resources accordingly.
Emergency legislation to patch yet another hole that has been created by federal budget cuts is one step - and an important one. But it will not be a solution to confronting the structural understaffing of prosecutors that exists statewide, including more urban counties like Brown, Fond du Lac, and Dane, rural counties like Bayfield, Wood, and Monroe, and most of the counties in between. The legislature is looking seriously at this problem as a statewide problem. I appreciate and acknowledge their work. But there is more work to be done.
I want to thank the District Attorneys, assistant district attorneys, and law enforcement leaders joining us today and throughout the state for their significant contributions to making Wisconsin a better place to live and work.