In an effort to address the “crisis” of short-staffed district attorney’s offices, the state Assembly on Thursday approved a bill that would add a prosecutor to Walworth County but not Rock County.
An amendment to Senate Bill 54 would add 53.75 assistant district attorney positions to 40 counties next year, according to the state Attorney General’s office. Adding the prosecutors would cost nearly $4 million.
If a person who is on extended supervision, parole or probation is charged with a crime, the bill would require the state Department of Corrections to recommend revocation of parole or probation, which would send more people to prison.
The amendment on prosecutors was announced Wednesday, said Chris Borgerding, a spokesman for Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, who authored the proposal with Rep. Mark Born, R-Beaver Dam.
“I have seen that we are at a crisis point in our DA’s offices,” Attorney General Brad Schimel said in a news release. “While crime has gotten more complex, staffing levels have changed minimally from the 1990s, when the few internet crimes were simple, DNA evidence was uncommon, and we didn’t have critical but labor-intensive Treatment Alternative and Diversion programs.”
A 2016 workload analysis for Wisconsin district attorney’s offices showed Walworth County was about 50 percent understaffed. It would need to add about 2.5 full-time equivalent positions to its current team of five to reach the proper staffing level.
Walworth County District Attorney Zeke Wiedenfeld, who is in a jury trial this week, said in an email that he thanked lawmakers for considering the bill, which gives “badly needed resources to my office and to district attorney’s offices throughout the state.”
“By investing in prosecutors and holding criminals accountable, we will continue our important duty to prevent the physical, emotional and financial losses that too many Wisconsin citizens and businesses have suffered at the hands of dangerous criminals,” Wiedenfeld said.
Rock County was about 18 percent understaffed, according to the staffing analysis, meaning it also would need to add about 2.5 full-time equivalent positions to the 14 it already has.
Rock County District Attorney David O’Leary could not immediately be reached for comment.
Department of Justice spokesman Johnny Koremenos said in an email the department “was not involved in determining the distribution of new positions.”
Nygren said Thursday the locations were determined by a study from the Legislative Audit Bureau, according to The Associated Press. Politics were not a factor, he said. Democrats unsuccessfully called for additions to Dane or Milwaukee counties.
Public defenders have also long lobbied the Legislature for additional staff and funding, but the Assembly was not doing anything to address that need, the AP reported.
Under the amendment, the selected counties would see their new prosecutors start work July 1, 2019, Borgerding said.
The bill now moves to the state Senate.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.