Should Wisconsin Introduce Stricter Bail Laws?

Two high-profile cases have led Wisconsin lawmakers to reconsider the state’s bail laws. The first involves the tragic Christmas Parade accident in Waukesha on November 21. In that case a driver allegedly took a plow through the parade crowd, killing six and injuring dozens. The state had just released the driver on a $1,000 bail related to a domestic violence case five days before the incident.

The second, another domestic violence dispute, involves a man who allegedly killed his girlfriend after paying a $250 bail connected to a previous domestic violence case.

These cases led to public outcry for change, and some lawmakers are taking action.

Wisconsin lawmakers react to these high-profile cases

State Senator Julian Bradley from Franklin and Chuck Wichgers of Muskego have already introduced three bills they claim will help reduce the risk of future incidents like the two discussed above. The first would set a $10,000 minimum bail for anyone with a previous felony or violent misdemeanor conviction. The second prohibits release without bail for those previously convicted of bail jumping and the third requires the Department of Justice report who set the bail for criminal cases as well as the name of the prosecutor assigned to the case.

In addition to the high-profile cases noted above, those in favor of these types of reform also point to the need for judges to take public safety into account when setting bail.

Sceptics voice concern and point out other options

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has pointed out that cash bail systems result in wealth-based incarceration. In addition to this larger, societal problem, the critics also argue the bail system has a direct and negative individual impact. Once arrested, the state puts the individual into jail. This individual is often unable to leave jail and return home unless they can pay the bill — the cash bail. This keeps the individual from taking care of their families and going into work.

Critics of the proposed reform measures also point out that other options can help protect public safety without resorting to a payment system, or reliance on bail. The state can instead use detention to hold dangerous defendants without the use of bail. Cases that involve a lower concern to public safety can continue to use conditions of release and supervision to help achieve these goals.

Bills in early stages, not yet law

The bills are not yet law. Lawmakers introduced the bills on January 13, 2022. Both houses will need to pass the bills and the governor would still need to sign them before they could become law.