UPDATED Thursday, January 3, 2013--5:45p.m.
MADISON--Dane County Executive Joe Parisi says we're currently suffering from a severe shortage of prosecutors. "In Dane County our district attorney's office is currently 14.5 positions short of the number needed to adequately address their growing case loads," he said.
But it's not a problem unique to Dane County: we're told statewide there's a need for more than 200 additional prosecutors.
We're also told the Dane County District Attorney's office will have similar numbers to what they had in 1985, even though the population here has grown by close to 160,000 people. "That's like adding the population of both Green Bay and Janesville to Dane County without adding any extra staff to deal with the challenges that we have," said Parisi.
Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne says it's hard to retain veteran prosecutors with the amount of money some of them make.
"Since I took office in 2010, we've had a turnover of at least 12 attorneys," he said, noting that two of those retired. "The remainder were prosecutors who left because they could no longer afford to be state employees."
Ozanne says lawmakers took a good first step last session by passing pay progression for prosecutors legislation, but he says it's only one of two steps needed. "Even though legislation was passed last session, it was not funded," he said.
That's why they're speaking out and asking lawmakers to make the issue a priority in the upcoming budget. They say if they don't get more help, it could hurt area communities because it takes longer to get cases through the system--and therefore longer to hold people accountable.
Posted Thursday, January 3, 2013 --- 2:22 p.m.
Press Release from the Dane Co. Executive's Office:
County Executive, District Attorney, Domestic Violence Advocates, Call for Resources to Address District Attorney Staffing Shortages
State Report Finds Dane County Needs More Than a Dozen DAs Based on Caseload; Domestic Violence Accounts for One-Third of County Cases
Dane County Executive Joe Parisi today called on the Governor and State Legislature to provide additional resources in the upcoming state budget to address ongoing staffing shortages in the Dane County District Attorney’s office and DA offices across the state of Wisconsin.
“Providing safety, justice, and some closure for victims of crime, their families, and our communities is an essential function of our criminal justice system,” said Parisi. “I have serious concerns that the ongoing decline in state resources for our hard-working men and women in the District Attorney’s office will damage not only our system, but the entire state’s criminal justice system.”
A recent report from the State Prosecutor's Office within the State Department of Administration (DOA) confirmed significant shortages in assistant district attorneys (ADAs). The state analysis found counties across Wisconsin – regardless of population, geography, or economic or demographic make-up – are facing significant challenges with dwindling numbers of prosecutors.
Many areas actually have less than half the total number of prosecutors they should have based on current caseloads. In Dane County, the second-largest county in the state, the report found that the District Attorney’s office is operating with a shortage of 14.45 ADAs. The Dane County DA’s office currently has 25 ADAs on staff.
In the nineties, ADAs became state employees to help smaller counties retain experienced prosecutors. The need for the state to be represented by experienced prosecutors in matters essential to public safety was cited as a reason for prosecutors to become state employees.
“Public Safety is not negotiable. Experienced prosecutors are an absolute necessity to public safety and our citizens deserve to have District Attorney’s offices that are adequately staffed with experienced prosecutors,” said Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne. “We are now staffed at 1985 staffing levels which is not adequate for 2013 caseloads. Without adequate resources District Attorney’s offices become training grounds with high turnover vs. top notched criminal prosecution experts able to attract and retain talented prosecutors at staffing levels adequate to cover the caseloads. We recognize the Governor and State legislature for supporting and unanimously passing a statute for reinstating pay progression for ADAs across the state and we are hopeful that they will fully fund this mandate in the upcoming budget – a first step toward addressing the retention problems facing the DA program.”
As state funding for ADAs has declined over the years, workload has increased, and more cases have been dismissed, with lesser charges being pursued in certain cases.
Parisi expressed his concerns regarding ADA staffing levels in a letter he sent to the Governor, adding, “With the state projected to have more than a $200 million surplus heading into the next biennial budget, it is my hope that some of those resources can be used to address ADA staffing in some way.” The Governor typically submits his budget to the state legislature in February.
Shortages have also had a serious impact on frequently occurring, complex cases that typically take more time to prosecute, such as those involving domestic violence. In Dane County, domestic violence cases represent roughly a third of the cases the District Attorney’s office receives.
Parisi was also joined by domestic violence advocates who voiced their support for more state resources to ensure justice for survivors of domestic violence and their families.
“While the criminal justice system has made great progress over the decades providing meaningful support for survivors for domestic violence, and bringing their attackers to justice, we are concerned that a continued lack of resources will create a backslide,” said Shannon Barry, Executive Director of Domestic Abuse Intervention Services (DAIS). “Providing significant accountability for offenders requires sufficient resources.”
The state’s report noted deficiencies in staffing across Wisconsin. After adding the identified deficiencies in ADAs statewide, the report suggests Wisconsin needs more than 214 new prosecutor positions. In other words, the state only has 65% of the actually number of prosecutors it should have.