Wisconsin Senate set to pass tougher penalties for crimes

Wisconsin State Capitol (WLUK/Don Steffens)

MADISON (AP) -- The Wisconsin Senate is set to approve a package of legislation Tuesday that would keep children in the state's troubled youth prison for longer stays and stiffen penalties for repeat offenders and offenders who get into trouble while out on parole.

The measures are the brainchild of Sen. Leah Vukmir. The Brookfield Republican is locked in a primary with Delafield businessman Kevin Nicholson for the right to challenge U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin next November; the bills would help her paint herself as tough on crime on the campaign trail.

The first bill in the package addresses the length of inmate stays at the youth prison outside Irma.

Under current law, minors ages 14 or older can be placed in a juvenile correctional facility for up to three years for attempting or committing certain serious crimes, such as homicide and sexual assault. If the juvenile commits a crime punishable by life in prison if committed by an adult, he or she could be imprisoned until age 25. The bill would eliminate the three-year limitation.

The prison has been under investigation for nearly three years amid allegations of physical and sexual abuse as well as neglect. A federal judge this year ordered staff to curb their use of pepper spray and solitary confinement. Staff insist the ruling has emboldened inmates to act violently.

The second bill in the package would eliminate a judge's ability to choose whether to expunge the record of offenders under 25 if they successfully complete their sentences. Under the bill, defendants would have to ask the judge for expungement a year after they complete their sentences.

The third bill would require the Department of Corrections to recommend revoking someone's parole, probation or extended supervision if he or she is charged with a crime.

The fourth bill would create a mandatory five-year minimum prison sentence for repeat offenders convicted of a wide range of crimes, including felony murder, homicide, kidnapping, arson, carjacking, child abuse and homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle or firearm.

The last bill would create a mandatory three-year minimum sentence for someone who illegally possess a gun while on probation, parole or extended release.

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