Fix the Bail System - Don't Make It Worse!
Some Wisconsin legislators are trying to rush through a change to our state’s constitution. AJR107 is a proposed amendment that passed the legislature with very little discussion last year. The Republicans are working to push it through quickly again in 2023 so that it can be on the ballot in April. (A constitutional amendment needs to pass in two different legislatures, then win a majority of votes in a statewide election.)
On January 10, both the State Senate and State Assembly held the one and only hearing they will have on the bill. The hearing was attended by dozens of people, from many sectors. Almost everyone who testified spoke of why the amendment should NOT be passed. Still, the majority party in the legislature seems determined to push it through.
AJR107 would change the constitution around matters of pre-trial bail. Essentially, it would encourage judges to set higher bail amounts, especially for people with previous convictions (no matter how long ago those were). It would almost certainly result in even greater racial and economic disparities among incarcerated people than we have now.
Cash bail is not a fair or effective way to decide who stays in jail and who gets to go home as they await trial. People should be detained if a judge determines that they are a serious threat to other people and/or if they are a flight risk (that is, that they are likely to run away before facing trial). If they do not pose a flight risk or a danger, they should not be held. “Innocent until proven guilty” should not only apply to people with money, or to people who have never been convicted of a previous crime.
Wisconsin needs to reform its pre-trial bail system. But, AJR107 is the wrong way to do it.
Executive Director, WISDOM Action Network