If you commit a crime in Lake Mills or the greater Jefferson County area and come into contact with police, it’s likely you will do it on camera.
The Lake Mills Police Department and the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office have police body cameras and squad car cameras, which make the job of Jefferson County District Attorney Monica Hall a little bit easier.
Hall discussed the advantages of police body cameras and her work as DA with the Lake Mills Rotary Club on April 13. Hall was appointed by the governor in July 2020 and elected to the position that November.
“We’ve had two officer involved shootings in the county since this last summer when all the unrest happened," Hall said. "Both of them were completely recorded, and all I had to do was watch video and write a report to confirm our law enforcement officers had acted completely appropriately.”
For that reason, she said, many people in the county might not have been aware of the shootings.
Law enforcement officers in Jefferson County receive specialized training to deal with mental health crises.
“These are some of the things they are talking about nationwide — our law enforcement here in this county is largely trained in that,” Hall said. “We are lucky to live where we do.”
Hall, who lives in Jefferson, says the process of setting bail is part of the system that largely is misunderstood.
“Offenders go in front of judges for bail,” she said. “Most everybody gets what is called a signature bond. That is a promise to come back to court, to not drink, do drugs or beat up other people.”
Prosecutors ask judges to set bond and make a recommendation, but Hall said Wisconsin state statutes only allow them to set cash bond if there is a reason to believe that person will not show up for court.
Hall referenced a car theft case where an individual was out of jail on a signature bond and re-offended, and then received a $500 bond and stole another car in Lake Mills and now sits in jail on a $10,000 cash bond.
“It’s important for the general public to understand the purpose behind bond and that most people don’t sit in jail when they are charged with a crime,” she said.
The DA mentioned plea bargains and the purpose of the criminal justice system.
“Most everybody who goes through the criminal justice system comes back out into our community,” Hall informed.
In recent years, she said, the focus has shifted from throwing offenders in jail to rehabilitation programs.
In 2014, Jefferson County started its Alcohol Treatment Court, and in 2017 its Drug Treatment Court was established to allow those who have been arrested due to drugs and alcohol a way to heal relationships with friends and family and increases the chance of living a healthy, sober lifestyle as well as spending less time in jail.
“I can tell you almost everyone who commits a crime in our community — it’s almost always related to mental health and alcohol and other drugs, often times both,” Hall said.
These programs utilize a team concept made up of the judge, case managers, defense attorney, district attorney, probation and parole and treatment professionals. Each is a four-phase program and the intensity of services decreases as participants progress through the program.
In each phase, participants must comply with routine court appearances, case management appointments — including office and home visits, treatment requirements, and random alcohol and drug testing. Intensive case management is a critical component to provide support and monitoring.
Treatment for participants consists of assessment and treatment planning, individual and/or group counseling for substance use and other issues, regular attendance at community self-help support meetings and assistance with education, life skills, parenting, financial and employment issues.
“People tend to do better and develop better life habits when they have a guy in a robe telling them to develop those habits,” Hall stated.
In exchange for their time in the treatment court, the offenders get less jail time associated with their crime and access to treatment programs in Jefferson County.
Hall said the Jefferson County Jail is implementing job training and GED education, even during COVID with the help of the Jefferson County Literacy Council.
The alcohol and drug treatment programs in Jefferson County are relatively new, but officials currently are working on statistics for addressing recidivism.
“We’ve made some modifications to the programs because we are keeping track and making sure we get the right people in our programs,” Hall said.
The programs, she said, accept both "high risk and high need" people who need help to not re-offend.
“We’re seeing a lot of heroin and a lot of methamphetamine (cases)," Hall said. "Both are really hard drugs to recover from. We treat them all together and go through the same court process.”
The pandemic only slowed the court system for a few weeks in the county, she noted. Jefferson County started using Zoom for court hearings early on during Safer at Home last year.
“At the beginning (of the pandemic), we didn’t know what to do,” Hall said. “The case law is supportive of pleas and sentencing as long as there is video contact.”
In most cases, she said, it’s easier for people to appear via Zoom because of not having driver’s licenses or needing childcare, but there is an option for people to come into the courtroom if they wish. Trials resumed in February.
This year, law enforcement referred more charges in 2020, Hall said.
“There was more of everything except domestic abuse and low-level OWI,” she noted. “We ended up charging more cases than we ever have but we managed to keep down the number of cases that are actively in court, meaning we have resolved more cases during COVID than we did the year before.”