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Attorney general candidate defends program for abusive parents (UPDATE)

Attorney General candidate Ismael Ozanne spent a good deal of time Wednesday defending a program in Dane County that allows for deferred prosecution in some child abuse cases.

Ozanne, the county’s district attorney, told an audience at a Milwaukee Press Club luncheon that the program that puts some parents who are convicted of abusing their children into a deferred prosecution program is not a way to give an offender a break.

“Let me be clear. It is never OK to abuse a child,” Ozanne told the audience. “That said, I need to make it absolutely clear that what we’re doing works.”

He said the program “does not let people off the hook.” Rather, he characterized it as trying to reduce child abuse.

The policy received attention this week, in part because a five-page report on it said deferred prosecution should be considered in some child abuse cases because it reflects “corporal punishment as a culturally acceptable form of discipline and attempting to influence change utilizing culturally sensitive interventions.”

“This is what leadership looks like. This is what protecting children looks like,” Ozanne said.

Ozanne said after the luncheon that the report was for a federal grant his office did not receive. But this sort of policy has been in place at his office since 2006, he said, and he hired a coordinator for it in the fall after receiving money from the county.

He said that the DA’s office has seen 660 cases referred for potential physical abuse since 2006. Of those, between 120 and 140 were referred for deferred prosecution, Ozanne said.

He also said that the program “definitely could” work on a statewide level

“When you look at these cases we’re not talking about the most severe cases,” Ozanne said. “We’re talking about cases in which they don’t meet the legal definition for [the Dane County Department of] Human Services to be looking to remove the child … we’re actually increasing the services and an ongoing service to that family and protection for that child.”

Ozanne also declined to speculate on whether, as AG, he would have chosen to participalte in the most recent John Doe investigation into potential illegal activity during the 2012 recall election campaigns.

The investigation spans five counties, including Dane, and Ozanne noted that the case is under seal, and he doesn’t want to violate that.

“I intend to keep my law license because I think that’s one of the requirements of the job,” Ozanne said.

Waukesha County DA Brad Schimel, who is running for attorney general as a Republican, said at a luncheon last month that he likely would have participated in the prosecution.

Ozanne is running against state Rep. Jon Richards, D-Milwaukee, and Jefferson County DA Susan Happ in the Democratic primary. The winner will face off against Schimel, who is running unopposed on the Republican side.

All of the other candidates say the most important issue with child abuse is making sure children are safe.

The Associated Press also contributed to this report.

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