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J.B. Van Hollen: Crime victims should not be forgotten in early-release plan
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The governor's submitted budget proposes the early release of offenders from prison. It proposes to eliminate the community supervision of many offenders already out of prison. And, it will take away probation as a sentencing option for some crimes. I have shared many of my concerns about the public safety impacts of this proposal.

Largely unheard in this discussion has been the voice of crime victims. Overlooked or uninvited, their voices are drowned out by the sound of the freight train this proposal seems to be riding. In the words of Karen Rengert, president of the Wisconsin Victim Witness Professionals, this proposal amounts to "broken promises that will impact victims of crime." I couldn't agree more.

Good policy should drive budget priorities, not the other way around. Decide what's important and fund it. This proposal, however, is an example of a fiscal crisis driving a (bad) policy decision.

Crime victims will tell you what's important. Especially, when they have been told they are. Participating in the criminal process, sentencing, restitution, confinement, field supervision and notification are vital to the compact with Wisconsin's crime victims. This proposal breaks that promise and, if enacted, it will have a lasting impact on victims of crime and public safety.

The governor's proposal puts victims at the mercy of a system, once again, where the sentences imposed by elected judges will be reduced by unelected bureaucrats at the Department of Corrections. The current "Truth-in-Sentencing" law which mandates that the time served by an offender reflects the sentence handed down by the Court, helps make victims' rights meaningful. Crime victims in Wisconsin have a statutory right to communicate with prosecutors about the case, to discuss possible pleas and dispositions, to submit information to the Court, to make victim impact statements at sentencing, and to receive information about the final disposition of the case. Those rights have far less meaning when the aspect most important to the victim - the final outcome of the case - is subject to change. To add insult to injury, it is not even the court making the change after careful deliberation as a sentence modification. It's bureaucrats who've never met the victims of the convicts who will decide to let them out.

Under the proposal, some offenders will be released early from prison. Some offenders will be released from supervision in the community. So-called non-violent offenders and certain felons will have the opportunity to shave one day off their sentence for every couple of days that they stay out of trouble. Even violent offenders' sentences can be reduced by one day for every 5.7 days they manage to follow the prison rules. Rewarding offenders for simply following the rules sends the wrong message. It places financial concerns above offender accountability and public safety, and is an insult to the victims already harmed by these offenders.

Wisconsin provides victims with the right to be heard and to provide input not only during the prosecution of a crime but also during hearings when an offender requests a sentence adjustment. Moving the process from the transparency and accountability of the courts to a state bureaucracy is a step backward for victims and victims' rights. Changing court-ordered sentences and eliminating supervision in the community for certain offenders as a way to save money reflects a stunning lack of sensitivity and regard for victims of crime who, at minimum, deserve to know with certainty the sentence imposed for the crimes committed against them.

During the last week of April, Wisconsin and the nation will celebrate National Crime Victims' Rights Week. This is the 25th anniversary of the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA). As attorney general, I am pleased to continue to be a voice for the innocent victims and survivors of crimes who live, work and lead responsible lives in our great state. For more information about crime victims' rights or National Crime Victims Rights Week go to