Delayed justice: Local district attorney's office battles understaffing, big caseload

By: Aaron Dimick Email
By: Aaron Dimick Email

BLACK RIVER FALLS, Wis. (WEAU) -- District Attorney Offices across Wisconsin are calling on additional support from the state to handle a big backlog of cases.

The District Attorney in Jackson County told WEAU 13 News that more crime in the area means a greater need for prosecutors.

Gerald Fox said our lawmakers need to step up to make sure victims don't have to wait around for months to get justice.

Stacks and stacks of criminal case files on the desk of the Jackson County District Attorney is a telling sign of the struggles in his office.

DA Fox said the origin of the problem is clear.

“Our prosecution resources have remained static while our law enforcement resources have gone up. Reported crimes have ballooned,” Fox said.

Fox has an Assistant DA, but he said that's not enough.

The county's top prosecutor said they're currently doing the job of three and a half people, often staying late and squeezing in additional cases when they can.

“We have to make some really lousy decisions about how to allocate the resources that we have,” Fox said.

A report from the State Prosecutor's Office has found more than 200 new prosecutor positions are needed statewide to handle all of the counties’ big caseloads.

Because funding for prosecutors comes from the state, Fox is calling on Wisconsin lawmakers to take action.

“They're real good at passing new laws and increasing the penalties for existing laws, but they don't write the check that it takes to make sure those laws are adequately enforced,” Fox said.

Fox said he'd be happy with one additional fulltime prosecutor.

“For your average taxpayer this doesn't affect them at all, until they or a loved one are a victim of crime. Then it's way too late to want more prosecution resources. We need them now,” Fox said.

WEAU 13 News reached out to several area lawmakers about this issue.

Democratic State Rep Dana Wachs of Eau Claire said he favors alternative courts and ways of sentencing to alleviate the pressure in DA offices.

Republican State Representative Kathy Bernier of Chippewa Falls said neighboring counties could share prosecutors and the need for more resources will be brought up in budget talks in the next year.

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