Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
Home / News / Inmate screening gets mixed reviews after 2 months

Inmate screening gets mixed reviews after 2 months

Two months into the use of a comprehensive pretrial screening program for criminal offenders, Milwaukee County Court officials say the program is meeting expectations.

Since the program launched Jan. 17, about 3,400 defendants have been evaluated through a series of criteria in an effort to arm judges and court commissioners with evidence-based insight when setting bail or supervision, according to Holly Szablewski, Judicial Review Coordinator.

Fewer than 10 percent of the evidence-based recommendations were overridden by court commissioners, Szablewski said.

Although still early in the process, presiding Felony Judge Rick Sankovitz said the statistics are encouraging.

“We thought the praxis was sound if commissioners and judges were following it 85 percent of the time,” he said. “So with overrides less than 10 percent we have exceeded that projection.”

But some criminal judges said the system is far from flawless.

Judge J.D. Watts said he has yet to experience an expected reduction in the number of trial court reviews of commissioner bail recommendations.

“I haven’t seen it,” he said.

Watts also said attorneys, both on the defense and prosecution side, are often unprepared to discuss the pretrial recommendations set by commissioners through the praxis.

“When the attorneys come in,” he said, “it’s like pulling teeth to get the grid and the risk level out of them. They don’t tell me.”

Aside from homicide and felony drunken driving defendants, the pretrial screening program is used for anyone subject to bail setting and processed through intake court.

Szablewski said program staff is in the process of making the pretrial recommendations of court commissioners more accessible to judges by linking the case file with the original bail decision.

“There is a little bit of work to be done tying all of the reports together to the case number,” she told criminal judges at a meeting Wednesday. “But we’re hoping to have a test view of that in the next week or two.”

Chief Judge Jeff Kremers acknowledged that the screening program is still being refined, but that the frequency of bail appeals should decline as more judges enforce the evidence-based recommendations.

“Unless attorneys show some reason why the praxis was wrong,” he said, “a judge has got no reason to change the bail, because if you change the bail and something happens it’s a little tougher to defend your position.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *