During his testimony Halsted pressed the importance of hard evidence showing that increasing penalties will deter such acts. “I don’t see why somebody threatening my child should be charged with a lesser crime than someone who threatens a probation agent’s child,” he said. “Everybody should be equal before the law. I think there should be penalties. People need to be held accountable. But when we start dividing up who’s more important than who or what role they are playing in society and decide that’s how we’re going to punish people, unless we can really show that enhancing penalties does have that desired effect, I really feel like it just makes us feel better to beat people with a bigger stick.”
Sens. Jacque and Van Wanggaard, the committee chair, brushed back Halsted’s arguments. Wanggaard said someone who threatens your child just to threaten them, “that’s different than someone threatening my child because I arrested them, or I arrested one of their family members.” A former law enforcement officer himself, Wanggaard declared, “You bet every time I’m going to go after that individual for whatever that maximum charge is.” Jacque added, “There’s bias in statistics,” dismissing Halsted’s call for evidence.
Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) sparred with Wanggaard over the way the bills continue to steer Wisconsin’s criminal justice system toward longer sentences and more incarceration. “A human being is a human being is a human being is a human being,” said Taylor. She pressed the importance of evidence-based reforms to the system, and the need for legislators to listen to the experts rather than relying on their emotions. “We have a majority that has chosen to have that mindset instead of seeing our problems and actually trying to address it, like the experts are telling us to do!”
Taylor urged her colleagues who are pushing for higher penalties and more incarceration to help the state “change our mindset so we’re not spending more on our criminal justice system than we are on education.” Speaking directly to Wanggaard, Taylor said, “We have a Department of Corrections, not a Department of Punishment.”