Here and Now #1546

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Premiere Date: 
May 19, 2017

Here and Now #1546

Watch the entire episode of Here & Now on May 19, 2017.

Episode Transcript

Frederica Freyberg:

I’m Frederica Freyberg. Tonight on "Here and Now," a "First Look" at two get tough on juvenile crime bills at the state capitol. After, that a "Closer Look" at a fire-filled week in Washington and a between-the-state-conventions look at Wisconsin party politics. Then a "Look Ahead" into weekend clean-up activities in tornado-ravaged Barron County. It's "Here and Now" for May 19.

Announcer:

Funding for "Here and Now" is provided, in part, by Friends of Wisconsin Public Television.

Frederica Freyberg:

A "First Look" tonight at two juvenile crime bills making their way through the capitol. Both pertain to minors who are part of what's called the Serious Juvenile Offender Program. The program is for juveniles who commit a limited number of very serious felonies for which an adult offender would be subject to life in prison and who are judged a danger to the public. The first bill would extend the time a juvenile offender can be incarcerated. The second expands the list of offenses for which a juvenile can be sent to a corrections facility. Republican State Representative Joe Sanfelippo is the primary sponsor of the bills. He joins us from Waukesha and thanks very much for doing so.

Joe Sanfelippo:

Thanks for having me on. I appreciate it.

Frederica Freyberg:

So taking these bills separately, what do you specifically call for in terms of extending the time that a juvenile can be incarcerated?

Joe Sanfelippo:

So under our present statute, a juvenile can be incarcerated up to age 25, but there's a three-year cap on the amount of time for incarceration. So let's say we have a juvenile that's 15 years old, commits a very serious crime, ends up in the SJOP program. By the time they're 18, regardless of whether or not the system feels that they still pose a danger to society, they have to be let out. And so what this bill would do is would take the three-year cap off and allow them to be able to stay in incarceration longer if the system determines that they still are posing a grave threat. But it also does another thing in that sometimes these juveniles are let out but they -- you know, before they've spent three years in crime -- three years in incarceration. And what we're hearing then from the people who monitor them and put them on supervision is that if they know that they can't go beyond the three years, it just takes away an incentive for them to try to behave a little better once they're in society because they know no matter what do they can't be sent back for that crime because they've already hit their three year limit.

Frederica Freyberg:

Interesting. The other bill expands the list of crimes that could land a juvenile who's 14 years old and older in a correctional facility or secured residential care center to any adult felony crime. So like felony theft?

Joe Sanfelippo:

That’s correct. Now, again, in conjunction with the crime that they are adjudicated for, the judge also has to determine that the juvenile poses a very serious threat or grave danger to society. So a juvenile who would be convicted of felony theft, if the judge doesn't feel that they don't pose a great threat to society, they wouldn't go in the SJOP program. So we're talking about very serious offenders, habitual offenders. The people that have maybe gone through the system a couple of times before, gone through some rehabilitative programs and alternative programs but those programs just haven't worked.

Frederica Freyberg:

You obviously think the current law is too soft on juvenile crime?

Joe Sanfelippo:

So you have to remember the current juvenile code's about 40 years old. And it's been updated once or twice since then. But I think one of the police chiefs that we spoke with while we spent the past two years investigating this summed it up best. He said, "Our juvenile code was written for Wally and the Beaver, but those aren't the kids we're dealing with right now." Our juveniles today are involved in more violent crimes than we thought they would be even 40 years ago. That's why the list of felonies that can land them in the SJOP program right now is a very, small limited group, like first-degree homicide. So we're expanding that only just to fit the trend that we're seeing much more violent crimes that juveniles are taking part of.

Frederica Freyberg:

Are there specific kinds of cases or is there specific motivation for these bills?

Joe Sanfelippo:

So I think if you take a look overall, just the seriousness or the escalation and the violence of the crimes that are being committed. You know, 40 years ago if a juvenile stole a car, most likely they took one out of somebody's driveway who had left the keys in the car or something like that. Today we see them taking weapons. I mean 13, 14, 15-year-old kids with guns sticking them in the face of mothers who in some instances have children in the back seat of their vehicles and they're forcibly taking them from their cars. They're going in and robbing stores with guns. They're just involved in much more violent crime than they were in the past. So what we're looking at -- quite frankly, when you talk to everybody involved in the criminal justice system, no matter what side of the spectrum they're on, everybody agrees with one thing, that the juvenile code is outdated and the entire code needs to be updated. That's a large undertaking. This bill here deals with one small segment of it.

Frederica Freyberg:

Wisconsin's juvenile prisons are under investigation into alleged inmate abuse as you know. Does it concern you to potentially have more inmates with longer sentences at Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake?

Joe Sanfelippo:

So nobody wants to see the problems that are alleged to have occurred at Lincoln Hills continue into the past. I think our new secretary, Secretary Litscher, has done a great job of making some improvements. We're going to be getting a report back from the FBI that tells us if more improvement is needed and exactly what has to be done and whatever has happened there we have to fix. But we have to remember, of the thousands of juveniles that go through the juvenile justice system every year. Last year we averaged 158 juveniles in this system. So it's not a large number of people. Now, that's not to minimize the problems that may have occurred there in the past. But the people or the kids that we're sending there are serious, hard core criminals that the age. Whether they're 15 or 25, they have committed some really serious, heinous crimes. Enough that a judge has determined they pose a grave threat to society, which is what landed them in there in the first place. So we can't only focus on the facility itself. We have to recognize we have a duty to protect innocent citizens from becoming victims of these violent offenders and in many cases repeat violent offenders.

Frederica Freyberg:

All right. We leave it there. Representative Sanfellipo, thanks very much.

Joe Sanfelippo:

Thank you. I appreciate your time.

Frederica Freyberg:

Assembly Democratic Evan Goyke is a former public defender who sits on the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. We spoke with him at the capitol and started by asking his reaction to these bills.

Evan Goyke:

They are addressing a crime problem in the reverse order. So Lincoln Hills, which is the only type one, secure location for juveniles in the state of Wisconsin, is a broken institution. It's still under investigation. There are lawsuits pending. And even aside from that, evidence tells us that that model, one big institution far away from the population centers of the state, is less productive. It has less rehabilitative ability and we have to fix that setting. Fix our juvenile incarceration system before we start sending more kids to prison. So I think that there are, you know -- deterring crime is a laudable goal, but if you're not fixing the institution that we now know is broken, you should stop sending kids there before you fix that problem.

Frederica Freyberg:

What about the intent of the bills, which is to combat crime perpetrated by whom the authors call habitual, violent offenders?

Evan Goyke:

So I think there is a nugget of truth in that language. That there are a very small number of people, young people or old people, that commit a lot of crime. And targeting those individuals, whether that's through treatment or through incarceration, is smart. But the bills that we're talking about don't do that. They cast a very wide net. And they will not have the deterrent effect that the author is promising. And I think you and I can probably agree 15-year-olds and 16-year-olds probably aren't watching this program. They probably aren't watching us debate these bills. They're impulsive young people. So whether or not, something has ten years or five years or three years, isn't sinking into the mind of a young people. It just isn't. That's just the nature of being young. So our approach to deterring crime needs to be different.

Frederica Freyberg:

So you don't think that people, quote, on the street know that all of a sudden they can get a lot more time and they might rethink their actions?

Evan Goyke:

Some maybe. Sometimes I’m sure that happens. But I can tell you just in my neighborhood that that -- if I stop the random person walking down the street in my neighborhood and ask them what's the going criminal penalty for x, y and z, they wouldn't know. They wouldn't know.

Frederica Freyberg:

Authors call these bills a victim prevention package. You represent Milwaukee as you've just suggested. What better way then to punish, deter and rehabilitate juvenile offenders?

Evan Goyke:

Sure. Well, first on the label, that these are a victim package. Pay attention. The bills do nothing for crime victims. They don't add services. They don't add access to treatment or rehabil -- it doesn't improve the crime victim fund in the state of Wisconsin. So the promise of these bills being victim-centric is that they'll deter crime through heightened criminal penalties. For 40 years in this state, we've increased criminal penalties. And it hasn't deterred crime. Since I’ve been elected in 2012, the legislature has passed 50 bills that have either increased criminal penalties or created a new crime. And we've passed zero that reduce those penalties. But crime is going up. So it simply doesn't work. So what is the alternative? The alternative is early intervention. And this is going to sound maybe a little bit hard for some people to really understand, but early childhood education, zero to three, following these kids through the system, wrapping them with services and with love and support as they age through educational systems is the best way to deter crime. If you go to Lincoln Hills today and you did a survey of all of the kids that are there. How many of those youth had a CHIPS case, a Child In Need of Protection and Services. The warden tells me it's somewhere between 80% and 90%. That means sometime in their life they had neglect or abuse. Some trauma happened when they were younger. And we see often very risky, bad behavior as a result of some trauma that that young person can't process. So fixing the trauma is how you deter the behavior.

Frederica Freyberg:

A certain number of judges, as you know, are reluctant if not refusing altogether to sentence juveniles to Lincoln Hills. If these bills became law, what kind of pressure does that put on this system?

Evan Goyke:

It sends a clear message to judges that the legislature, the elected officials of the state of Wisconsin, want judges to send more youth to Lincoln Hills. It's very dangerous. And if you give them that nudge, they'll send the kids there. And the bills greatly broaden the number of crimes that would be called serious juvenile offender program. That's a program currently reserved for very risky, very violent kids. And under some of these proposals, we would potentially lump a retail thief or a drug processor into the same category as an armed robber. And that's not right. The system -- Lincoln Hills is not designed for that type of child. And it shouldn't be used. It's an overreaction to their behavior. This is again something that's kind of hard for people to understand, but sometimes incarceration makes a kid worse. So we know that if a good kid who's low-risk and maybe does something impulsive but has a good foundation and will grow up to not re-offend. If we put him in a cell with a kid that is very high-risk, the good kid is not making the bad kid better. It's the other way around. And that's why parents worry about who their kids hang out with. And that's why my mom made me call from my sleepover when I was 12 to verify I was where -- she didn't want me hanging around the wrong crowd. These bills have the potential of sending low, non-risky kids into the very last setting we should be sending them, into a prison.

Frederica Freyberg:

We need to leave it there. Thanks very much.

Evan Goyke:

Thanks.

Frederica Freyberg:

Daily headlines this week out of Washington on the investigations into the Trump campaign's relationship with Russia. Midweek the Justice Department appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller as Special Counsel to lead investigations into questions of Trump-Russia ties. The move sparked reaction from Congressional leaders, including Wisconsin Congressman House Speaker Paul Ryan.

Paul Ryan:

I believe that the professionals at the Justice Department need to do their job independently, objectively and thoroughly. And I believe the Special Counsel, which is Robert Mueller now helps them do that.

Frederica Freyberg:

From Washington politics to Wisconsin politics and some "Capitol Insight," as the partisan firestorm rages in Washington, party politics in Wisconsin gets down to business with the annual state party conventions. Last weekend Republicans gathered in Wisconsin Dells. Early next month state Dems convene in theirs in Madison. Between the conventions we thought it was a good time to take stock of the parties' strengths and weaknesses as a midterm election year approaches. Here to help with that, Capitol Consultant's managing partner and Republican Bill McCoshen. Democrat Scot Ross is the executive director of One Wisconsin Now. Thanks to both of you for being here.

Bill McCoshen, Scot Ross:

Thanks for having us.

Frederica Freyberg:

Our lead describes what's going on in Washington right now as a firestorm. What do you guys make of everything that's going on? First to you.

Scot Ross:

I don't think we've ever seen -- I mean as bad as we thought things would be, I think that they're exponentially worse. Every single day we --you ask yourself this has gone on, this has gone on, this has gone on. Oh wait. It's only Tuesday afternoon. It's been a disaster. Most importantly for I think the Republicans, they're not able to get their agenda going. That's the trouble with what's going on with Trump is that they can't get and execute the agenda they promised both their base and independents that they'd be able to deliver.

Bill McCoshen:

I would agree with Scot on that. I wouldn't call it a disaster. I'd call it a distraction and a significant distraction. The one thing we learned about Donald Trump during the election last year was he's unorthodox and unpredictable. There were times where guys even like me predicted he was done in the primary process and proved to be wrong time and time and time again. So that strategy or model worked for him as a candidate. I'm not so sure it's going to work governing. And so far it's been a fairly significant distraction.

Frederica Freyberg:

But is this as bad as all of that or is this as much about the 24-hour news cycle flogging this every minute?

Scot Ross:

I'd say this, I mean, if you look at the S.S. Trump, which, really, the only difference between it and the Titanic is there were life boats on the Titanic. Look at what's happened to the golden god of Wisconsin politics, Paul Ryan. This was a guy who was not only unchallenged by opponents for the most part or Democrats in his own district, but this is a guy who was considered the intellectual firestorm, the intellectual giant of the Republican Party. He's now considered --

Bill McCoshen:

The mistakes Democrats have made in the first 120 days of the Trump administration is everything is a 12, a fever pitch against him and it just rallies Trump supporters. They got to choose their battles a little more carefully then they may have an opportunity to make some inroads.

Frederica Freyberg:

What about the way, though, that Wisconsin Congressional people are having to respond to this? Like Paul Ryan. I mean this puts people in a really difficult spot.

Bill McCoshen:

I think they've learned not to respond. They've basically said I’m going to wait and see what the facts are. That's the better model. Back in the campaign cycle, Congressman Ryan, Congressman Grothman, others did have comments on every issue of the day. It's just not a good strategy. You might as well wait for all the facts to come out and be sure before you make a statement.

Scot Ross:

I think that -- again, I think you say some salient things, but I think there are three politicians in Wisconsin tied to Donald Trump. Paul Ryan, Reince Priebus and Scott Walker.  And Scott Walker's on the ballot in 2018, as is Paul Ryan. I think that's where the real challenge is. How do they distance themselves in a way that doesn't alienate the base, but recognizes that there are a lot of people out there who have real concerns about what's going on every single day in Washington D.C.?

Bill McCoshen:

We know this. Typically the party in power loses seats during the midterms. That's been the historic precedent. Whether that happens in 2018 remains to be seen. If they get health care done and they get a major tax package done, I’m not so sure they couldn't actually add seats on the Republican side.

Frederica Freyberg:

You think this kind of controversy in Washington would be in the rear view if that were to happen for the 2018 election?

Bill McCoshen:

He’s got to get his agenda done. And that's why these other things are such a distraction. If they can get health care done this fall. If they can get tax reform done this fall, I think 2018 could actually be a very good year for Republicans.

Frederica Freyberg:

And yet those investigations will keep on going, right?

Bill McCoshen:

Hopefully, you know, I wasn't a Jim Comey fan. Truthfully Democrats weren't fans of Jim Comey last October when he came out against Clinton with eight days, ten days to go in the election, right? So I think it's probably good that he's gone. Robert Mueller is above reproach. High integrity guy. Hopefully these things will happen expeditiously and get them behind us. Whatever the facts are, they are.

Frederica Freyberg:

So what about that, about Comey? As a Democrat you didn't like him and you still don't like him?

Scot Ross:

I mean I thought it was outrageous. But what Donald Trump did is unprecedented. That's the thing. The Democrats can do a level four and Donald Trump comes and does a level 13. And that's where I think that's where -- you know, the comparison level for alternatives do not exist at this point, 120 days into an administration in American history.

Bill McCoshen:

We’ve never had a president that's this accessible to the press either. He's had how many press conferences in the first 120 days? At least one a week. It's stunning how open and accessible he is to the press. And it creates problems for his staff, frankly. They're out there saying one thing and then he oftentimes contradicts them.

Frederica Freyberg:

As for state party politics, I’m going to ask you each to describe the other party. So Bill McCoshen, how would you describe the state of the Democratic Party?

Bill McCoshen:

I’d say it's in disarray. They lack leadership. They clearly lack an agenda, and they're losing working people. This is a party that my mom and dad grew up in. They couldn't identify with it today. The Democratic Party of today is all about identity politics and that's not a winning strategy. They need a different formula if they're going to be successful moving forward.

Frederica Freyberg:

Let me have you respond to that, your own party.

Scot Ross:

To my own party?

Frederica Freyberg:

Yes.

Scot Ross:

Well, as a Democrat I have concerns about what's been the Democratic economic message over say the last 25 years. Somebody who's a member of Generation X. It's been Social Security, Medicare, and is my employer-provided pension under threat. Those don't exist for post-Baby Boomers. What does exist for post-Baby Boomers is student loan debt. And I think that's where the Democrats can make their inroads. 43 million people have student loan debt in the United States. One million in Wisconsin. They're regular voters. So if the Democrats who have embraced student loan reforms can get that into the campaign debate, I think they're going to have a good time on 2018.

Frederica Freyberg:

How would you describe the state of the Republican Party in Wisconsin?

Scot Ross:

Well, I mean, again, they're tied to that Trump thing, which is a real problem. And I just look at where Scott Walker is now compared to where he was at this time in the 2014 cycle. He's nine points down in terms of popularity from the Franklin polls at the same time. And he's got a heck of a lot less money than he had then. And he has to make the case to be -- I think -- maybe I’m wrong on this -- would be the only governor to ever serve more than two terms. How does he make that case? Wisconsin deserves the best. If you don't feel you're getting the best, Scott Walker is to blame.

Frederica Freyberg:

Your response.

Bill McCoshen:

My former boss, Tommy Thompson was elected governor four times so there is another one. I'd say this, Scott Walker has built probably the strongest grassroots GOP organization in the state's history. And that includes the campaign I ran for Governor Thompson in 1994. Even though his poll numbers are not great today. He's got a lot of time to improve those and I’d say he's the heavy favorite in 2018.

Frederica Freyberg:

All right. Bill McCoshen, Scot Ross.  Thanks. Also this week, another rough audit for the state's flagship agency in charge of job creation. The Legislative Audit Bureau reported that in the last six months of 2016 the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, or the WEDC, did improve its grant and loan contracts by including provisions requiring repayment of loans, but did not require recipients to detail whether jobs were created or retained. The audit also showed the amount of loans made to businesses that may go uncollected went from $1.3 million at the end of 2014 to $11 million by the end of last year. Saying operations had improved, the legislature's Joint Finance Committee last week lifted a ban and acted in the last state budget that prohibited WEDC from issuing new loans because of the agency's problems. The JFC did not revisit that decision in light of this week's audit.

Frederica Freyberg:

And dozens of people are still recovering tonight after a deadly EF2 tornado ripped through a mobile home park in northwest Wisconsin on Tuesday. The tornado reached wind speeds of 130 miles per hour. It touched down just after 5:30 Tuesday night in the small city of Chetek in Barron County. One of the hardest hit areas was the Prairie Lake Estates Mobile Home Park in Chetek. Several mobile homes were destroyed and a local resident, 46-year-old Eric Gavin, was killed during the storm. At least 25 others were injured. And now to Barron County and a "Look Ahead" into the weekend clean-up there. For that, we have Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald on the telephone. Thanks for being here.

Chris Fitzgerald:

Thank you.

Frederica Freyberg:

In the aftermath of the tornado, what is going on there right now?

Chris Fitzgerald:

Yeah. Just an update. We just got our property and we have 231 properties in Barron County damaged in this storm. It stretches about a ten-mile stretch here. We're in the recovery clean-up effort as we speak today. We have over -- as of now, over 300 or 400 volunteers on our different sites, cleaning up, helping people clean debris up. We bussed them in from our volunteer resource center. We're in the clean-up mode right now helping people try to get back going on with their lives.

Frederica Freyberg:

Wow. So taking you back to Tuesday evening, when you and other law enforcement first arrived, what was that like and what was the first order of business?

Chris Fitzgerald:

The first order of business, I arrived on scene, I was actually on duty and arrived on scene during the incident. Our first was rescue. We had several people trapped in trailers, walls on top of them, total devastation. It's a miracle -- it's sad that one person died, but it's a miracle that only one person died and we had 25 injured. It's a miracle because it's total devastation up here, not only in the trailer court, but across Barron County.

Frederica Freyberg:

And so do you know what the status is of those who were injured? I mean, are there people still in the hospital?

Chris Fitzgerald:

I’ve got conflicting reports this morning that a person in the hospital might have been released. But there's only one or two left in the hospital as far as I know or zero. It's somewhere between zero and two people left in the hospital. Again, it's a miracle. It's just a miracle. It's nothing like I’ve ever seen in my 20 years of law enforcement. It's total devastation. Where there's supposed to be houses and trailers, there's absolutely nothing.

Frederica Freyberg:

Now, three days later, how are people coping?

Chris Fitzgerald:

You know, we're starting to see some of the effects of the trauma that it's created. First responders and everything, people have been working 24/7 since the incident and trying to get people help. But there's a lot of hope. There's a lot of people giving us food, water, donations and monetary and all that stuff is building hope and rebuilding dreams. And that's what we're running on right now. We're running on fumes, but we're running on hope, and it's been awesome. It's unbelievable. And we're going to put people's lives back together even starting right now in the room right next to me.

Frederica Freyberg:

All right. Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald, thanks very much and good luck.

Chris Fitzgerald:

Thank you.

Frederica Freyberg:

People interested in volunteering this weekend in Barron County should report to the volunteer reception center Saturday and Sunday between the hours of 8:00 in the morning and 5:00 p.m. The center is set up at St. Peter's Catholic Church at the intersection Highways 8 and 53 in Cameron. Finally tonight, a "Look Ahead" to next week, when we'll have an update on the expansion of school choice. We'll take you to Wausau where the private schools are thinking about expansion and public school leaders are angry they have to raise taxes to pay for it. Until then, I’m Frederica Freyberg. Have a great weekend.

Announcer:

Funding for "Here and Now" is provided, in part, by Friends of Wisconsin Public Television.

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