Legislation that could keep young offenders in prison longer was the subject of a public hearing at the Capitol on Tuesday.
“The Department of Corrections determines that an individual poses a great threat to society, but under the statute, they have to open the door and let that person out,” said the bill’s author, state Representative Joe Sanfelipo (R-New Berlin). “Does that make sense?”
A bill from Sanfelipo would extend the amount of time the state can hold juveniles convicted of serious crimes, eliminating a three year limit on sentences at the state’s Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls.
There was some sharp reaction in the Assembly Corrections Committee to the proposal. “This is outrageous. You’re scaring people,” said Representative Evan Goyke (D-Milwaukee).
“I don’t have to scare anybody,” Sanfelipo countered. “All you have to do is read the headlines.”
State Representative Bob Gannon (R-Slinger) questioned Sanfelipo. “When was the last time you heard of a young thug carjacking granny at gunpoint, when they’re incarnated at Lincoln Hills?”
Gannon was supportive of the legislation, referring to some youth inmates as “some of the roughest, nastiest, out-of-control men and women in the state.”
Assistant State Public Defender Devon Lee questioned the wisdom of holding juveniles for extended periods. “They may not be carjacking old grannies while they’re in Lincoln Hills. They’re probably not. But at some point, unless you’re going to lock those children up for the rest of their lives, they’re coming back to their communities,” she said.
Sanfelipo’s bill is part of a “victim protection” package he’s offering with state Senator Leah Vukmir. A second bill that received a hearing Tuesday would expand the list of crimes punishable by sentences at the youth prisons.