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State’s defendants waiting longer for sentencing

RACINE, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin defendants waiting to be sentenced increasingly have to endure delays of several weeks before they learn their sentences.

Corrections officials cite two reasons for the delays — too few probation agents to conduct pre-sentence investigation reports, and stricter requirements in the reports that take longer to complete. But defense attorneys say the delays can hurt defendants who end up being sentenced to time served.

In 1997 the state Department of Corrections implemented a three-week turnaround to complete the reports. But DOC spokeswoman Lisa Yeates said it’s become difficult to meet that deadline because the pre-sentence reports now include the results of an additional risk-assessment tool.

The reports can now take six to eight weeks and be 20 pages or longer, she told The Journal Times of Racine report.

Pre-sentence investigation reports, or PSIs, include interviews with the defendant, family members and coworkers. They also include an assessment of prior crimes and punishments meted out. The goal is to give judges guidance when formulating a sentence.

But a new component was added to PSIs in 2010. The Compas risk-assessment tool contains about 140 questions designed to try to gauge the person’s risk of committing other offenses in the future. Factors include being friends with gang members.

The additional work means it’s “next to impossible” to finish the reports in three weeks, Yeates said.

Racine County Judge Allan Torhorst said sentencing hearings have been delayed because probation agents need more time to finish their investigations and reports.

“It’s kind of a non-issue in my view because we need their input — all parties,” Torhorst said. “A number of PSIs are favorable to the defendant.”

But the delays concern people like Adrienne Moore, who runs the state public defender’s trial office in Racine. She noted that some defendants are sentenced to time served, meaning they’re credited with the time they already spent behind bars awaiting trial and sentencing. In some cases that means the defendant is immediately released.

“”It’s more of a ‘why should a client sit and wait needlessly when the offer is for time served?'” Moore said.

State law does not mandate a time frame in which PSIs must be completed, Moore said.

Racine County Sheriff Chris Schmaling said it’s important to understand that PSIs take time to complete. He said it would be a mistake to short-cut the process.

“At the end of the day, I don’t want any more inmates in our jail than necessary. But I also understand the needs of the pre-sentence investigation,” Schmaling said. “The last thing I want them to do is rush this very important process in the court system.”

Information from: The Journal Times, http://www.journaltimes.com

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