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OPINION - Debt to society paid

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU) The Kim Hoenisch case got a lot of news coverage for two reasons. First, she was a corrections officer who abused her power. And second, as the wife of then-Marathon County sheriff Randy Hoenisch, people wondered if she'd get special treatment in the criminal justice system.

A probation officer who supervises released inmates has an incredible amount of power. Since the ex-con isn't completely free, they agree to terms of release that include computer monitoring, unannounced searches, random alcohol and drug tests... and if the officer overseeing their case so-much-as suspects a violation, they'd land back in jail while it's sorted out. Kim Hoenisch searched the homes and took the prescription pills of the inmates she supervised, knowing that they wouldn't dare report her. It was a clear violation.

I shared the concerns that Hoenisch would get special treatment as her case went through the courts. A special prosecutor handled the case. I thought it was overly generous that she was allowed out on bond while awaiting sentencing. Her pre-sentencing investigation was appealed and it bought her more time while awaiting punishment. If you or I were in the same legal predicament, we'd probably be cooling our heels in jail.

But ultimately she was sentenced to 18 months in prison as part of a plea bargain. She spent almost a year in jail, and is now under home-supervision after completing a drug and alcohol counseling program at the Milwaukee Corrections Center for Women. That program is available to other non-violent criminals who committed drug-related crimes. Under the terms of that program, inmates become eligible for early release if they stay sober and meet the requirements of their parole. If Kim Hoenisch follows the rules, she'll have gotten out seven months early.

At this point, I believe Kim Hoenisch has paid her debt to society. I also see her as a sympathetic figure. She's an addict who got hooked on pain-killers from a back injury. In that sense, she's more of a sick woman than a criminal. Addicts will do anything to get their next fix. In her case, a career as a corrections officer was thrown away. Her husband also damaged his career in the name of his wife's legal trouble. Randy Hoenisch was caught being an absentee elected official, wanting to spend additional time with his wife in the months before she was sent off to jail. He retired early in disgrace. If he ran for reelection, he probably would not have won.

One of the goals of the criminal justice system is rehabilitation. I hope that's what the future holds for Kim Hoenisch. She committed several crimes. She's taken responsibility for her actions and has been punished. In my judgment, a high price has been paid.

Chris Conley