Staffing shortages at DA's office affect domestic violence cases - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Staffing shortages at DA's offices affect domestic violence cases

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Lately, domestic violence cases have been taking up more and more of the time Wisconsin's district attorneys have to prosecute crimes. That means with staffing shortages across the state, assistant DA's are stretched thin, so officials are asking for more funding from the state budget.

A report from the State Prosecutors Office shows that based on case loads coming in, DA's offices in Wisconsin are a combined 214 staffers short. Local officials are worried the ones who will be most affected are domestic violence victims.

Experts say domestic violence makes up a third of all of Dane County cases, so assistant DAs are assigned more cases, causing reduced sentences and in some cases, dropped charges. That puts victims at risk for repeated abuse.

"Victims may feel that they took all the right steps by reporting to law enforcement when crimes happened against them, but if those reports don't result in criminal charges then victims may feel they have put themselves at further risk by the abuser," says Shannon Barry, with Domestic Abuse Intervention Services (DAIS).

Barry says it takes a lot of courage for victims to come forward, and she's worried a lack of proper prosecution could keep others from coming forward.

According to the report, the Dane County District Attorney's Office is short 14 staffers. DA Ismael Ozanne says they've lost five ADAs in 2012. Currently, the office has 25 on staff.

"They're not leaving because they don't want to continue being prosecutors, they're leaving because they can't afford to stay in the positions they have," Ozanne says. "We can do a much better job at catching criminals, we are solving more complex crimes but if we don't have the ability to hold people [criminals] accountable that is not helping public safety."

To fund all 214 positions, it would cost the state $16.5 million. In Dane County, each position with benefits would cost about $68,000. County officials are hoping at least some positions will be funded in the next state budget.

County Executive Joe Parisi sent a letter to Governor Scott Walker this week, explaining how these officials believe the short-staffing is a public safety risk.

"What we're asking for today [Thursday] is that the governor and the legislature take a serious look at this issue and serious consideration in the upcoming budget to fulfill their commitment and their duty to fund these positions and ensure we have an adequate number of prosecutors across the state," says Parisi. "It's all about protecting potential victims of crime and making sure that people who are victims of crime have prosecutors available to them to help them find justice and to protect them moving forward."

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Dane County officials are concerned about the impact the state budget has had on domestic violence cases.

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi, District Attorney Ismael Ozanne and domestic violence advocates will hold a news conference on Thursday to talk about staffing shortages at the DA's office.

A recent state report estimated that based on caseload, Dane County is operating more than 14 assistant district attorneys short. Officials say that shortage has had a serious impact on more complex cases that take more time to prosecute, like domestic violence incidents.

In Dane County, domestic violence is involved about a third of the cases the DA's office handles.

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