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Thursday - March 22, 2018 2:10 am

La Crosse County to study how judges should set bonds

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One practice for which La Crosse County judges are often criticized is granting a low bail so prisoners can get out of jail after arrest.

Later, however, many of those people get sent back to jail for violating conditions of their bond.

That led to a 2017 La Crosse County record for the highest number of felony cases in its history with over 1,100. La Crosse district attorney Tim Gruenke said about 20 percent of those counts were for bail jumping, which has led to a county committee looking at ways to avoid frequent bail jumping.

“Part of what we’re looking at is, why are we releasing those people?” Gruenke, who heads the county's criminal justice council said. “Were we wanting to release them? is that just the way it is? Is there a way we can give them some alternatives to try and keep them from getting in trouble again?”

Gruenke added that the number is so high because any violation of bond conditions by a felony suspect is treated as a new felony.

“What we didn’t expect was felony bail jumping was our most common felony charge last year — more than possession of meth, possession of heroin, forgeries, burglaries, things like that.”

Gruenke added that other counties, like La Crosse, are reconsidering bail.

“It’s part of a pilot project around the state where one of several counties that are going to use a different system of how we address who gets what kind of bail,” Gruenke said.

Gruenke doesn't want bail to become discriminatory, so that low-income suspects can't raise enough money to get out of jail. He said one possible remedy is to get judges not to order prisoners to stay away from alcohol or drugs once they're let out of jail.

He also said the county plans to study whether judges should limit the number of bond conditions so defendants have less of a chance of being sent back to jail.

Brad Williams

A native of Prairie du Chien, Brad graduated from U-W-La Crosse and has worked in radio news for more than 30 years, mostly in the La Crosse area.  Brad writes the website "Triviazoids," which finds odd connections between events that happen on a certain date, and he writes and performs with the local comedy group Heart of La Crosse.  He's been featured on several national TV programs because of his memory skills.  

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