My wife works second shift in Oconomowoc and we have a home in Bay View. Too many times during her nighttime commute home she sees the aftermath of a wrong-way driver. It is terrifying. After all, what can you do to protect yourself from a wrong-way driver on the freeway? Pay attention? Well obviously, but really it comes down to luck.
Earlier this week I sent a request to the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s office asking them for data on wrong-way driver incidents on Milwaukee County freeways. I wanted to know how often it happens, how often it involves alcohol, and whether there are any specific ramps where wrong-way drivers are more likely to get on the freeway in the wrong direction. My thinking was I would do a piece on the need for wrong-way spikes or something similar to help stop these incidents. Thankfully, the County Sheriff’s office is way ahead of me.
It is also a great example of what I meant when I previously touched on the many positive functions of government. Simply, there are limits to the effectiveness of personal responsibility. Though it is a depressing thought that there exists multiple people in our city that will attempt to drive a car after getting inebriated to the point of being unable to tell which is the right side of the freeway, it is reality. Sure, stronger drunk driving laws may deter some from this behavior, but I have to think someone unable to process that they are putting lives (including their own) in danger is unlikely to make a good decision out of the fear of a DUI.
Hence, it is a perfect example of where government is best positioned, and really the only entity at all positioned, to take the necessary actions to address a social problem. Kudos to Milwaukee County for taking this important step to better protect those, who like my wife, are just trying to get home safely. Now we can only hope that no more lives are taken by these senseless incidents.
George Wagner brings out the old “What’s the matter with Kansas” argument in today’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. For those unfamiliar, “What’s the matter with Kansas” was a book written in 2004 by Thomas Frank that argued Kansas residents supported Republicans despite it being against their economic interest. The implication is that Kansas conservatives are ignorant and/or being distracted by social issues.
Wagner applies the sprit of the argument to income inequality, citing a finding that Americans, “even traditional Republican constituencies,” support a more equal income distribution. Yet, Americans somehow do not support raising taxes on CEOs. Why? Wagner says the reason is ignorance, writing: “most Americans believe that wealth distribution is a lot more equal than it actually is.”
I agree with Wagner that growing income inequality is a potential problem. Data from the Department of Revenue indicates that between 1996 and 2009 the percentage of all Wisconsin tax filers with annual incomes between $20,000 and $70,000 has decreased from 43% to 40% while the percentage of all filers with incomes above $200,000 increased from 0.78% to 1.71%. To the extent that is attributable to an inequality of opportunity, it is troubling.
However, it is not clear why a higher percentage of Wisconsinites are earning more than $200,000 today than in 1996. More wealthy Wisconsin residents can be viewed as a positive, especially given that the percentage of total state tax revenue being collected from filers earning over $200,000 annually has increased from 14.9% to 25.3% between 1996 and 2009. More importantly, the increase in wealthy Wisconsin residents is certainly not the reason that 46% of Milwaukee children are impoverished, as Wagner alludes. Increasing taxes on the rich, a solution that Wagner argues Americans are too ignorant to support, will not in and of itself decrease poverty.
I’ll call this the housing project principal, based on that well-meaning urban policy failure. People needed better housing, so cities built public housing projects. It solved the immediate problem facing the homeless and those with inadequate housing, but did nothing to address the myriad of social issues of which a lack of adequate housing was the most obvious symptom. Yes, poverty is a lack of income, but it is so much more. Simply taking money from the wealthy and giving it to the poor does not address urban education failures, infant mortality, inadequate health-care, crime, or any other of the social problems that are also symptoms and causes of poverty.
Growing income inequality is a problem if it means that the United States is no longer an egalitarian society where everyone has a chance at success. One of the reasons I blog so often on urban education is that addressing policy failures in that arena is necessary for our society to get closer to true equality of opportunity. The discomfort I and others have with proposals to simply soak the rich comes not from ignorance, but a desire to enable success rather than punish it.
Mize’s report focuses on the devastating effects of recidivism on our state, and how the system can be changed to focus more on preventing criminals from re-lapsing. The current statistics are disturbing:
While the monetary cost of crime is high, the cost to public safety is also of concern. The Wisconsin Office of Justice Assistance reported 176,155 violent and property crimes committed in 2007. Based on research showing that 62% of all felony defendants have prior criminal convictions, we can attribute an estimated 109,216 of these crimes to recidivists. Using a conservative estimate that 21% of all Wisconsin felony offenders were on either probation, parole, or pretrial release at the time of arrest, recidivists under active community supervision account for 36,992 violent and property crimes over the course of one year. A 10% reduction in crimes committed by recidivists would save Wisconsin from nearly 11,000 violent and property crimes per year.
Among Mize’s recommendations for making Wisconsin safer:
First, the system should recast its orientation to focus on reducing recidivism.
Second, Wisconsin should improve the state bid process for community corrections services and initiate performance-based contracts to oversee both public and private providers. Performance-based contracts would include precise benchmarks and outcome-based measures of recidivism and public safety.
Third, it should move away from a system in which the public sector is the primary service provider. In the public sector there will be few consequences suffered if recidivism is not reduced. Contrast this with a private-sector service provider for which remuneration could be directly tied to recidivism rates. It is logical that the private-sector provider has more incentive to actually reduce recidivism. The United Kingdom can serve as a model in that it has moved away from a predominantly public system to one in which both public- and private-sector providers service the needs of community corrections. This blend of public and private providers should be used in Wisconsin.
Filed under: Crime — Christian Schneider @ 11:15 am
When a recession hits, we all focus on the government policies that are most immediate to the economic downturn: unemployment, income, taxes, debt, etc. But in the “never waste a crisis” vein, it appears Wisconsin Democrats are trying to parlay the recession into a major change in the way we deal with those who have committed crimes.
The most obvious example to date is Governor Jim Doyle’s plan to save the state money by granting early release to up to 3,500 “nonviolent” offenders in state prisons. Somehow, in a budget that Doyle claims “cuts” $5.9 billion, he was able to spend $500 million more on K-12 education to pacify the teachers’ unions, while reducing prison spending by $20 million. Perhaps the citizens of Wisconsin should form the “Association of People Who Don’t Like Being Stabbed in the Head,” give Doyle some campaign cash, and he might change his mind about letting criminals back on the streets early. Of course, these offenders will be hitting the streets at the very same time unemployment in Wisconsin has exceeded 8.5%, meaning they’re not exactly going to rush back to lives of productivity.
But legislative Democrats have an answer – they have begun circulating a bill they’ve dubbed the “Job Opportunity Tax Credit” that they boast gives businesses tax credits to hire certain people – veterans, poor high school students, ex-felons, people in vocational rehabilitation programs…
Oh, did I skip over that one too quickly? I’ll say it again.
You read that right – their proposal would actually give a business a tax credit for hiring an ex-felon. Naturally, this gives the business a financial incentive to hire criminals over people who, say, may have managed to avoid molesting children or gunning someone down in the street. (I believe the bill exempts killing someone softly with love songs.)
Of course, we should encourage people who have served their time to make a living. Ex-cons (and even current-cons) are already protected by state law against employment discrimination for past arrest or conviction record, which gives them a decent chance at getting a job with employers who are fearful of a lawsuit if they don’t hire them. If they emerge from prison and can’t find meaningful employment, society is asking for a world of hurt.
But actually giving criminals preference for jobs simply goes too far. The world is officially upside down when someone can live on the straight-and-narrow their entire life, then lose out on a job opportunity specifically because someone else couldn’t. (Note to self: During my next job interview, I should actually jump over the desk and dump battery acid on the boss- then explain to his charred skeleton he should hire me because he’s now eligible for a tax credit. Everyone wins!)
Side note: How do you think veterans feel about being lumped in with ex-felons? If you hire an ex-con who is also a veteran, do you have to immediately have to make him the CEO of your company?
Showing that they also have a sense of humor, legislative Dems have also begun circulating a bill draft (LRB-0910) that would impose a one-year prison sentence on any legislator that engages in lobbying within one year of leaving office. The bill is an attempt to convince the public that legislators no longer in “the club” are the cause of corruption in our state – not the current legislators who agree to be corrupted by lobbyists. As if everyone will forget who a representative is a full year after they leave office. Maybe we should erase their pictures from all the old Blue Books just to be safe.
So, apparently, our prisons are so overcrowded, we have to let 3,500 offenders out, but we have plenty of room for “violent” offenders like lawmakers who get a job lobbying after they quit.
Here are some crimes considered to be “nonviolent” by the state:
Possession of explosives
Causing mental harm to a child
Manufacture, distribution or delivery of drugs
So all you guys in the “incest” line – you can all go free. You legislators over there – you can take their cells.
Obviously, the recession hits everyone hard (except for, of course, state government, which will continue to grow.) But using the financial crisis to socially engineer changes that benefit those who have harmed others isn’t the “stimulus” we need.
Filed under: Crime — Christian Schneider @ 4:35 pm
Today’s “Goofball Bill of the Day” circulating around the Wisconsin Capitol:
Re: Co-sponsorship of LRB 2074/1, charges for inmate telephone use at a jail or house of correction
From: State Rep. Frederick P. Kessler
Date: February 25, 2009
Re: Co-sponsorship of LRB 2074/1, charges for inmate telephone use at a jail or house of correction
This bill restricts the charges that may be imposed for an inmate phone call from a jail or house of correction to no more than the charges that would be imposed for a comparable call from a state institution. The rates charged in some counties are beyond all reason. For example, in 2007, Milwaukee County’s rate for a call from the House of Correction stood at $5.55 for a fifteen-minute call. The hardship to the inmate’s family is only exacerbated by having to choose between paying exorbitant phone rates to hear from their loved one, or making the difficult decision to not accept the phone call.
Tell ya what, Fred, as soon as we solve this pesky little $5.9 billion deficit, your bill to have taxpayers pick up more of the tab so rapists can call home to their mommies will be our first priority.
“The hardship to the inmate’s family is only exacerbated by having to choose between paying exorbitant phone rates to hear from their loved one, or making the difficult decision to not accept the phone call.”
Gee, if only there was a way for the loved ones to stay out of jail.
Filed under: Crime — Christian Schneider @ 5:13 pm
It has been a month and two days since State Representative Jeff Wood was arrested for drunk driving and possession of marijuana. Just yesterday, he was officially charged with his 3rd OWI and the drug charges. At the time of his arrest, I had a little fun at Wood’s expense, although I now admit I probably went a little overboard.
Needless to say, Wood picked the wrong time to get busted drinking and driving. Newspapers across the state have declared a fatwa against drunk driving, publishing story after story in an attempt to get lawmakers to toughen up Wisconsin’s OWI laws.
But what’s most interesting to me isn’t necessarily the fact that Wood was finally charged – I’m more interested in why we still care about what he did. It’s not like legislators driving drunk is a new phenomenon – one seems to get popped every couple of months. Yet those cases disappear in the public’s consciousness within days. (Except, most notably, in the case of the state’s top cop, former Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager.)
It’s not even as if Wood’s urinating on the side of the road is unprecedented. Former State Assemblyman Frank Boyle famously ran his car into a concrete barrier and urinated in his pants before cops picked him up. Boyle went on to be re-elected twice more by his constituents – a fate that currently seems out of Wood’s reach.
This brings us to what I’d call “The Wood Paradox,” which is this: The reason Wood’s case is so titillating to the public happens to be due to the least dangerous and offensive thing he actually did. I am referring, of course, to the charge of marijuana possession.
As I mentioned, elected official drunk driving arrests come and go, and usually elicit yawns. But Wood’s became statewide news because he had marijuana – an illegal drug – on his person. Suddenly, this arrest was outside of the mold we have set for elected official arrests, which made it exponentially more newsworthy.
But honestly, what’s really the most dangerous thing he did that night? It was climbing into his car and trying to make a 4 hour drive home while drunk. But somehow, that’s just boring to us now. We need a little sizzle to our legislative arrests.
Which brings me, mercifully, to my main point. Who really cares if a 39 year old guy has marijuana on him? It impacts my life exactly zero percent if a guy decides to go home, smoke up, and watch reruns of The Jeffersons all night. If you’re working the counter at a gas station all day, go ahead – what do I care? Dying of cancer? I’ll buy you a bong. (Naturally, it would be an issue if Wood were high and driving around – but it appears in this instance, alcohol was the drug of choice.)
Normally, when people are compelled to write columns about marijuana use, they have strong opinions about whether the law should either be strengthened or weakened. I, on the other hand, have a different perspective – I’d strenuously argue that the law is pretty much fine the way it is. (When I eventually run for office, my signs will say “Vote Schneider for a stronger status quo!”) It’s just tough enough to scare high school kids wanting to go to college away from trying it, but lenient enough that the people who really want to smoke up don’t really treat it like it’s illegal. It really takes minimal effort to skirt the law.
Marijuana opponents would say that weed makes people stupid and lazy. Perhaps this is true. But in the event these people are already dumb, a good argument could be made that marijuana actually keeps them at home and out of my grocery lines. And that could be a potential benefit. A friend of mine warned that marijuana also makes people think they can play the guitar – and one day, a terrible, high guitar player might attempt to woo my daughter. So, basically, this column could be ruining her life.
What Jeff Wood did was terrible. The fact that he has now been pinched three times for it is even worse. But the fact that he had marijuana on his person really means nothing. It didn’t make a single person in this state either more or less safe – so we should stop feigning indignance at his newfound status as a drug offender. We shouldn’t be saying “oooh, drugs!” instead of “you know… he really could have killed someone.” Drunk driving should never be more socially acceptable than carrying around a dime bag.
In my previous post about Wisconsin’s drunk driving laws, I referred to Wisconsin’s lenient statute with regard to DUI penalties. While the NCSL chart listed all drunk driving offenses in Wisconsin as civil violations, this isn’t entirely accurate. Just to be clear, here is the actual criminal penalty statute for drunk driving in Wisconsin:
(am) Any person violating s. 346.63 (1) The drunk driving law)
346.65 346.65 (2)(am)1. (First Conviction)
1. Shall forfeit not less than $150 nor more than $300, except as provided in subds. 2. to 5. and par. (f).
346.65 346.65 (2)(am)2.(Second Conviction)
2. Except as provided in pars. (bm) and (f), shall be fined not less than $350 nor more than $1,100 and imprisoned for not less than 5 days nor more than 6 months if the number of convictions under ss. 940.09 (1) and 940.25 in the person’s lifetime, plus the total number of suspensions, revocations, and other convictions counted under s. 343.307 (1) within a 10-year period, equals 2, except that suspensions, revocations, or convictions arising out of the same incident or occurrence shall be counted as one.
346.65 346.65 (2)(am)3.(Third Conviction)
3. Except as provided in pars. (cm), (f), and (g), shall be fined not less than $600 nor more than $2,000 and imprisoned for not less than 30 days nor more than one year in the county jail if the number of convictions under ss. 940.09 (1) and 940.25 in the person’s lifetime, plus the total number of suspensions, revocations, and other convictions counted under s. 343.307 (1), equals 3, except that suspensions, revocations, or convictions arising out of the same incident or occurrence shall be counted as one.
346.65 346.65 (2)(am)4.(Fourth Conviction)
4. Except as provided in pars. (f) and (g), shall be fined not less than $600 nor more than $2,000 and imprisoned for not less than 60 days nor more than one year in the county jail if the number of convictions under ss. 940.09 (1) and 940.25 in the person’s lifetime, plus the total number of suspensions, revocations and other convictions counted under s. 343.307 (1), equals 4, except that suspensions, revocations or convictions arising out of the same incident or occurrence shall be counted as one.
346.65 346.65 (2)(am)5.(Fifth Conviction and Beyond)
5. Except as provided in pars. (f) and (g), is guilty of a Class H felony and shall be fined not less than $600 and imprisoned for not less than 6 months if the number of convictions under ss. 940.09 (1) and 940.25 in the person’s lifetime, plus the total number of suspensions, revocations and other convictions counted under s. 343.307 (1), equals 5 or more, except that suspensions, revocations or convictions arising out of the same incident or occurrence shall be counted as one.
346.65(2)(f)(If a Minor Is In the Car)
(f) If there was a minor passenger under 16 years of age in the motor vehicle at the time of the violation that gave rise to the conviction under s. 346.63 (1), the applicable minimum and maximum forfeitures, fines, or imprisonment under par. (am) for the conviction are doubled. An offense under s. 346.63 (1) that subjects a person to a penalty under par. (am) 3., 4., or 5. when there is a minor passenger under 16 years of age in the motor vehicle is a felony and the place of imprisonment shall be determined under s. 973.02
Lawmakers in Wisconsin now appear serious about getting tough on drunk driving in Wisconsin, following the death of 39 year-old Jennifer Bukosky, her unborn child and 10-year old daughter at the hands of three-time convicted drunk driver Mark Benson. Even Governor Jim Doyle has proposed making a third drunk driving offense a felony. Other lawmakers have proposed confiscating offenders’ cars after a third offense, as well as sending drunk drivers directly to prison (Benson killed Bukosky and her children during a period before he was supposed to report to jail after his third conviction.)
When crafting a tougher new law, the sensible thing for legislators to do is to see what other states have done to crack down on drunk driving. The National Conference of State Legislatures has provided a chart that details every state’s criminal drunk driving statute. When you look over the list, Wisconsin stands out in how light we are on drunk driving offenders. In the overwhelming majority of states, first non-accident offenses are at least a misdemeanor (although, admittedly, “misdemeanor” means different things in different states.) Exceptions from first-time misdemeanors include New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Louisiana, and New Hampshire – although subsequent offenses usually ratchet up the penalties in those states.
Generally, it is the third, fourth, and fifth offense (usually within a period of a few years) that moves the offense up to a felony in most states. Yet in Wisconsin, the first non-injury offense is a civil conviction. Injury-related DUI offenses constitute either a Class D or Class F felony. Second through fourth offenses are criminal misdemeanors that carry time in the county jail, with a fifth offense moving up to the felony level. (And, as we hear about at least once a year in Wisconsin, if you lose your license, you can always drive your tractor to the liquor store.)
For a full list of Wisconsin’s criminal drunk driving penalties, click here.
(In addition to being a civil conviction, Wisconsin law is even lighter on drivers with blood alcohol content between .08 and .1. For a summary of the .08 law, click here.)
While higher criminal penalties are one way other states go after repeat drunk drivers, they aren’t necessarily the only option.
25 states have opted for mandatory ignition interlock systems for some drunk drivers. Wisconsin is one of 20 states that allows ignition interlock devices to be installed “at judicial discretion,” which is weaker than some states that make the interlock devices mandatory in some or all cases. Several studies show drunk driving recidivism rates drop between 50 and 95 percent when ignition interlock devices are utilized. While some fear that these devices are too easy to circumvent (such as by having someone else blow into the tube for them), newer technology is arriving that makes that more difficult. For instance, some new devices include breath pulse codes, hum-tone recognition, and “blow-and-suck patterns.”
Four states have taken the lead on ignition interlocks by making them mandatory for all convicted drunk drivers, even first-time offenders. New Mexico was the first state, with a law passed in 2005, to require ignition interlocks for all offenders. The state has seen a 28 percent decline in alcohol-related fatalities since the new law went into effect.
Since then, three more states-Arizona, Illinois and Louisiana-have passed similar laws that mandate an ignition interlock for every convicted drunk driver. Oregon and Washington require ignition interlocks for all offenders who want to have their driving privileges reinstated. Colorado, Kansas and New Hampshire make them mandatory for repeat offenders and those convicted of so-called “high BAC” offenses. Sixteen states require them in some circumstances, while 20 states and the District of Columbia allow interlocks at the discretion of the courts.
Five states at some point have employed either special license plates for drunk drivers, or required a sticker be affixed to their license plate. The effectiveness of these programs seems to be mixed, as Oregon let their pilot program lapse without reauthorizing it, and Iowa repealed the law altogether. According to NCSL, five states considered new license plate laws in their 2008 sessions.
27 states have passed laws creating enhanced penalties for driving drunk with children in the car. (In 2003, one Louisiana woman was found passed out in her car with five children, ages 4 to 9, in the car with her.) 16 states have increased the penalties for refusing chemical blood alcohol tests.
A new Wisconsin law could employ any number of these strategies. But it must be done right, and it has to pass the common sense test to which it will undoubtedly be subjected to by the public.
Filed under: Crime — Christian Schneider @ 4:45 pm
Quite often, well-intentioned legislation goes bad. Such a case exists in Massachusetts, where a well-meaning law meant to broaden the standard for rape has now turned into a national punchline.
Under the new legislation, it would be a felony to have sex with someone under false pretenses. In other words, you could go to jail for lying to someone in order to get them to have sex with you.
The bill states:
Whoever has sexual intercourse or unnatural sexual intercourse with a person having obtained that person’s consent by the use of fraud, concealment or artifice, and who thereby intentionally deceived such person so that a reasonable person would not have consented but for the deception, shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for life or any term of years. As used in this statute, ‘fraud’ or ‘artifice’ shall not be construed to mean a promise of future consideration.
The bill was meant to correct legitimate instances of deception such as the time a sleepy Massachusetts woman had sex with her boyfriend’s brother, thinking it was actually her boyfriend. In another case, a medical technician pretending to be a doctor conducted a full pelvic exam on a woman after telling her he was licensed to give the exam. (Perhaps the fact that the “doctor” was eating a ham sandwich during the exam might have been a tip-off.)
But think about how broad this language actually is. Lying for sex? Is there really any other way? If women really knew what we were like, there’d be no chance any male would get any action. Every guy has some bogus story about what a good job we have, how we spent time on a Greenpeace boat, how this is our real hair, or some such nonsense. Every man pads the resume a little, hoping to cash in before reality sets in. (Although saying the words “I’m a blogger” might be the most effective birth control known to man.)
Even if there’s not overt lying going on, there are implied lies. Suppose your girlfriend cheats on you with Roger Clemens. And suppose, had you known about the affair, you never would have slept with her again. But she doesn’t tell you about the affair, and you continue to have your monthly sexual encounter. Your girlfriend could actually be guilty of rape, since she concealed information that would have kept you from having sex with her.
The list goes on. Tell a girl you will always love her? Get an orange jumpsuit. Cougar looking to score a younger guy at the bar tonight? Better be honest about your age, or you’ll be making license plates soon, sweetie. Telling a man he’s a great lover to keep the love train going? (Never a problem in my case, incidentally.) Get ready for the big house. Tell a girl you work with she looks like Pam from “The Office?” Well, no worries there, since she’ll probably opt not to talk to you ever again.
(As long as we’re handing out sentences, the words “I can’t wait to see the ‘Sex and the City Movie’ out of any guy’s mouth should be punishable by death.)
In 1975, a man named Marty Evans was sued by a woman claiming he lied to get her in the sack, and it went all the way to the New York Supreme Court. In his decision in People v. Evans, Justice Edward Greenfield said:
“So bachelors, and other men on the make, fear not. It is still not illegal to feed a girl a line, to continue the attempt [to obtain sex], not to take no for a final answer, at least not the first time. . . . [A] male [will] make promises that will not be kept, . . . indulge in exaggeration and hyperbole, or to assure any trusting female that, as in the ancient fairy tale, the ugly frog is really the handsome prince.Every man is free under the law, to be a gentleman or a cad.”
Of course, should this bill actually become law, there are fiscal implications, as well. For instance, it might be expensive to turn the State of Montana into a prison big enough to house the entire male population of the United States. Then again, the entire human race may be eradicated within a decade due to the end of procreation.
Filed under: Crime — Christian Schneider @ 2:27 pm
While the Wisconsin Legislature continues to struggle with allowing individuals to carry firearms to protect themselves, I think I’ve found a middle ground. There’s no doubt thatÂ Democrats and Republicans alike can agree that we should let people carry concealed pitchforks.
Madison police responded to a call early Tuesday morning about a scuffle in which pitchforks and knives were drawn to stop vandals from ruining a tent near a fraternity on the 200 block of Lakelawn Plaza near Langdon Street.
Police said only threats were exchanged and no participants suffered injury. The report said an officer at the scene of the crime heard somebody say, “I just had a pitchfork pulled on me.”
This may be new to the people of Madison, but this is the type of violence rural communities been putting up with from rough farmer gangs for years. Be thankful you haven’t been the victim of a drive-by pitchforking.