Wisconsin Republican U.S. Senate candidate Leah Vukmir has repeatedly attacked incumbent U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, saying the Democrat failed to protect communities against sex offenders.
Vukmir, a state senator, is one of two leading contenders for the Republican nomination to take on Baldwin in the November election, with national control of the Senate majority possibly at stake.
A look at Vukmir’s claim:
VUKMIR: “Really, @SenatorBaldwin? You wanted to protect us from offensive school mascots but didn’t protect us from sex offenders in our communities?”
THE FACTS: Vukmir’s claim is exaggerated. It focuses on one vote by Baldwin 24 years ago in which she voted again tougher punishment for sex offenders while ignoring several other votes in which Baldwin backed tougher laws.
Vukmir’s campaign didn’t reply to multiple requests for comment. Her website criticizes Baldwin for opposing a 1994 state law that allowed judges to order sex offenders to go to a secured state mental health facility after they completed their prison term.
Baldwin, who was then a member of the state Assembly, was one of only two members to vote against the bill, which passed with the support of 93 state representatives. Supporters of the bill said it keeps violent sex offenders off the streets. Critics argued it forces offenders to serve two terms — one in prison and one in a state facility — for a single crime. The Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld the law in 1995.
But Baldwin also supported more than a half-dozen Wisconsin state bills that strengthened sentencing and punishment for sex offenders during her time in the state Legislature from 1993 through 1998. One of the laws she supported allows sex offenders to be placed under lifetime supervision.
There is no precise data to prove if the 1994 law has had an impact on making communities safer. Since 1994, 803 Wisconsin sex offenders have been committed to a state-run treatment center following their release from prison.
A state study shows sex offender recidivism rates dropped following the law’s enactment but the research doesn’t attribute the decline to new state regulations.
“The trend seen in recidivism for sex offenders mirrors the trend in recidivism for all offenders,” said Tristan Cook, spokesman for the Wisconsin Department of Corrections.
Between 1992 and 2010, Wisconsin released 12,849 men who had committed sex crimes from prison and 4.9 percent offended again, according to state research from 2015.
Laws that keep offenders in a state facility even after they’ve served their sentence might keep offenders from committing repeat offenses, but the regulations are costly and states that have adopted the laws do not have lower recidivism rates, said Michael Caldwell, a psychology professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
In addition, he said most sex offenders in the state face parole requirements following their release even if they have not been sent to a mental health facility.
“Typically, they don’t just walk out the door then they’re free — there’s very close monitoring,” Caldwell said.
As for Vukmir’s claim that Baldwin wanted to protect people from offensive school mascots, this appears to be a reference to a 2014 letter Baldwin and other Democrats sent the NFL, urging a renaming of the Washington Redskins.
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