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Clash Over Bail Reform – Wisconsin Democrats Push Risk Assessments, While Republicans Propose Constitutional Amendment

Democratic lawmakers in Wisconsin have proposed a plan to largely eliminate cash bail in the state, relying instead on risk assessments to determine whether defendants can be released from jail before trial. The plan is being presented as an alternative to a proposed Republican constitutional amendment that would make it harder for people to get out of jail before trial. The Republican amendment would allow judges to consider criminal histories when setting bail for those accused of violent crimes.


The Democratic proposal Is unlikely to pass the Republican-controlled legislature, and Governor Tony Evers cannot veto the Republican amendment if it is ratified by voters next month. Criminal justice advocates warn that the Republican amendment could increase disparities between the rich and poor and worsen crime rates.


Meanwhile, the Senate judiciary committee voted 5-3 along party lines to approve a bill defining violent crimes, which would only go into effect if the proposed amendment is approved by voters. The Republican plan is scheduled for an Assembly vote, but opponents have criticized the list of crimes as too extensive.


Democratic lawmakers have not finalized their list of violent offenses that could preclude someone from being released before trial, but they have indicated that it will likely not include misdemeanors. Advocates argue that even short periods of incarceration can have a devastating impact on a person’s life, with research showing that pre-trial detention can increase the likelihood of unemployment and guilty pleas.


A report by the Associated Press posted by Fox News on March 16, 2023, contributed to this report.

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