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TGB presented jail assessment data on high incarceration rate of Natives

Updated: Jul 8, 2020

By Joe Morey

News Editor

The Lac Courte Oreilles Tribal Governing Board (TGB) heard from Nick Sayner, the CEO and co-founder of JusticePoint, a non-profit dedicated to the promotion of evidence-informed criminal justice programs, practices, and policies, at their weekly meeting on June 29, regarding a Sawyer County Jail Assessment done in 2018.

The assessment data was presented back then to the county showing those being held and what the risk factors are of those being held.

“We found a disproportionate number of Natives at 67%. You have a unique situation in Sawyer County compared to other counties,” Sayner explained.

“The data was shocking to me,” Sayner told the TGB. JusticePoint screened 186 pre-trial inmates and 68 post-conviction over a 90-day period in 2018. 64% were male and 36% were female, which Sayner noted was an unusually high number for females. He also said 67% were Natives, which is a very high rate.

Sayner explained what they found in the assessment was increased felonies, overcrowded jail, the high percentage of drug charges, lack of public defenders and a lot of money being spent shipping inmates to other counties.

“33% of the pre-trial screened inmates were for drug offenses. A significant number of cases were lower risk which is unusual for us to see,” Sayner said. He noted another unusual finding was that 2% were being held for Operating after Revocation (OAR).

In comparison, Sayner said Milwaukee County’s district attorney will no longer prosecute for THC offenses or OAR’s, telling local municipalities they can still set fines for local ordinance violations but they won’t be placed in jail.

At JusticePoint, they have a risk factor scale of 1 to 4, with 4 being those who continually miss court and 1 being those who have missed one court or none, and 58% off all their screenings fit into that category with 12% as high risk.

“This tells me that we have low-risk people being held,” Sayner stated. “Our studies show that even two to three days of incarceration for low-risk people can have long-term impacts on whether a person becomes a factor in the criminal justice system.”

Sayner added, in his opinion, there needs to be a shift from more punitive to restorative justice.

Out of the screens, 62% of inmates had only missed one court date or less. 37% missed none while 25% had missed one court date.

TGB Member Tweed Shuman said low-risk are being held because they can’t meet the bond amounts or lack of access to a public defender.

Secretary-Treasurer Michelle Beaudin added that from the Sawyer County perspective, they are not looking at historical trauma or have had cultural sensitivity training.

“There is a huge increase in felonies in Sawyer County,” Sayner went on. “We found it shocking that 36% of those screened had 10 or more charges per case coming in. This was a red flag that something is wrong.”

TGB member Gary “Little Guy” Clause said the local authorities like to stack up a lot of charges in the hopes that at least one sticks. They know they will plea out and get something out of it.”

LCO Tribal Attorney Kris Goodwill explained that LCO is currently expanding their courtroom. The Tribe wants Judge John Yackel to hear cases in the Tribal Court as there is a statute that allows the circuit judge to hear cases anywhere in the county.

“They may claim the reservation is trust land, but we fall under Public Law 280, which gives the county criminal jurisdiction anyway,” Goodwill stated.


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