MADISON (AP) - Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen wants to shift millions of dollars from schools, prisons, gang prevention efforts and defense attorneys to pay for collecting DNA from suspects upon arrest and services for sexual assault victims.
The state Justice Department's budget request asks Gov. Scott Walker to take nearly $10 million in criminal surcharge money from the state Department of Public Instruction, Department of Corrections, the Office of Justice Assistance and public defenders. The move would end funding for school alcohol abuse programs, reduce money for prison guard training, shrink grants to help keep kids out of gangs and cut training budgets for attorneys who represent poor defendants.
Van Hollen told The Associated Press in an interview the surcharge revenue is meant to fund Justice programs and other recipients should have to convince lawmakers they deserve money from other sources.
"I'm promoting truth in accounting," he said. "You talk about diverting these funds, really, that's what has already happened."
Critics called the proposal wrongheaded and warned it could put children and prison workers at risk.
"Absolutely crazy," said Marty Beil, leader of the state's largest public employee union, which includes prison guards. "What does Van Hollen think is going to happen? The gangs are going to go away?"
Walker and Van Hollen, both Republicans, have been pushing a plan to collect DNA from suspects upon arrest. Walker is expected to include the proposal in his version of the budget. Both Walker and Van Hollen contend taking DNA at arrest, much like collecting suspects' fingerprints, will help solve more crimes.
The move would represent a massive expansion of police powers, though. Right now Wisconsin takes DNA only from convicted felons and sex offenders. The proposal has left civil liberties advocates fuming and law enforcement wondering how the state would pay for it. The Justice Department estimates the program would cost just that agency $7.2 million over the next biennium.
The Justice Department also has been looking for money to reimburse nonprofit groups and public agencies that provide counseling and other aid to sexual assault victims after losing revenue from a special fee for those services. Offenders pay the fee but revenues have been dwindling over the past three years as convictions drop and criminals fail to pay up.
To address those issues, Van Hollen wants to draw money from another, separate criminal penalty surcharge levied against offenders. That fee had been split among the Justice Department and four other agencies, but he wants all of it to go to the Justice Department. The agency would gain about $9.8 million over the biennium, with most of it going to cover DNA collection and pay sexual assault service providers.
Public schools stand to lose about $3.7 million under the plan. Patrick Gasper, spokesman for the Department of Public Instruction, said in an email the shift would wipe out state aid for schools' alcohol and drug abuse prevention programs, including such mainstays as mock car crashes set up before homecomings and proms to discourage drunken driving.
DPI also would lose funding for 10 employees who help train teachers on sensitive issues such as bullying, preventing student suicide and helping parents get mental health services. The agency might have to eliminate some of those positions, Gasper said.
The Department of Corrections, a Walker cabinet agency, would lose $4.1 million earmarked for correctional officer training. DOC spokeswoman Jackie Guthrie said the agency would wait until the governor releases his budget before it analyzes any changes. Beil, the union leader, said guards already receive minimal training.
"If there's a need to add additional revenues for DNA collection, then damn it, go to the Legislature and get it," he said.
The Office of Justice Assistance, the state agency that allocates federal and state law enforcement grants, would lose $1.7 million. That means less money for organizations working to keep teens out of gangs in Brown, Kenosha, Milwaukee and Racine counties. The agency also would lose matching funds for federal grants designed to bolster the juvenile justice system and cover police overtime in Wisconsin cities struggling with violent crime.
OJA spokeswoman Tami Jackson declined to comment. Jim Moeser, deputy director of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, said the offender fee was clearly meant to help children and improve public safety. Without those programs, crime will only increase, driving up prison and other costs in the long run, Moeser said.
"If we're reducing those kinds of investments we're going to end up paying for it later in many ways," Moeser said. "It's bad for the kids and economically it doesn't make sense."
The Public Defender's Office would lose almost $254,000 for attorney training and conferences. Spokesman Randy Kraft said state public defender Kelli Thompson has been talking with Van Hollen and Walker
about how the office uses the money.
The budget is a long way from being finished. Walker is scheduled to release his proposal in February and the Legislature will spend months revising it. Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie was noncommittal about Van Hollen's request, saying in an email only that the governor was committed to fully funding DNA collection upon arrest.
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