Report: Where Wisconsin stands on hate crime laws in comparison to other states

MADISON, Wis. — Hate crime laws across the nation are inconsistent and incomplete when it comes to addressing bias-motivated crimes, a new report from Movement Advancement Project and backed by more than a dozen other national advocacy organizations found.

Echoing state-level findings in a News 3 Investigates State of Hate series earlier this year, the report found widespread flaws in data collection and reporting and an ineffectiveness within the criminal justice system at addressing the root causes of bias-motivated violence.

Wisconsin is one of about half of all states that don’t require hate crime reporting by law enforcement, as well as one of about two-thirds nationwide that doesn’t legally require officer hate crime training. (The Wisconsin DOJ has included bias training in their officer academies for at least a couple decades, and requires hate crime reporting to their agency. However, hundreds of law enforcement agencies haven’t reported a hate crime in years, our News 3 Investigation found.)

“One of the reports’ major findings is simply the fact that hate crime laws vary so much  from one state to the next,” Logan Casey, lead researcher with MAP, explained. “No two states have the same hate law.”

To be sure, the basics are often similar: hate crime is usually treated as a penalty enhancer, there’s often a separate property damage statute, about half of all states require law enforcement agencies report their hate crime data. But when it comes to the specific combinations of laws, the types of categories each law protects, and what kind of training or reporting is or isn’t required–the result is a mosaic of inconsistency.

“What we show in the report isn’t even everything that could possibly be there about how hate crime laws vary. It’s a really complex area of law,” Casey said.

The report also honed in on solution-oriented and victim-protection laws, of which there were few nationwide. Only nine states, not including Wisconsin, had laws protecting hate crime victims and survivors. Wisconsin was one of just five states that had a restorative justice sentencing element for hate crimes, although it only applies to juveniles.

“Wisconsin’s law is unique in at least one way, and that is that it offers something of an alternative sentencing program,” Casey said. “Those are extraordinarily rare across the country.”

According to the report, Wisconsin has:

  • Institutional vandalism statute (35 states make hate-based vandalism its own crime)
  • Laws that disqualify people who have been convicted of a hate crime from some forms of work (certain types of government work, foster parenting, some types of licensed careers)
  • Alternative sentencing available like mediation, but only available to juveniles and only in addition to traditional punishments
  • Right to civil action in response to a hate crime

Wisconsin does not have:

  • Some form of mandated protection under law for hate crime victims, survivors (9 states do)
  • Law that requires law enforcement to report hate crimes (The Wisconsin DOJ mandates hate crime reporting from law enforcement agencies, but few report any hate crimes on an annual basis)
  • Legal requirement for hate crime training for law enforcement officers (Bias training is currently part of the DOJ’s officer training course, and has been since at least the early 2000s. Once an officer is certified, it’s up to individual agencies whether to prioritize additional training.)