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The COVID-19 pandemic contributed to an increase in court case backlogs across the nation, including in Wisconsin.

Prior to the pandemic, the backlog of criminal cases in Wisconsin had been incrementally increasing for about two decades due to staffing shortages, with similar upward trends nationwide.  

When the pandemic hit in 2020, court closures greatly exacerbated the existing backlog. In Wisconsin, statewide orders closed or placed restrictions on courtrooms for several months — pushing back the timeline for criminal cases and jury trials across the state. Courts are still recovering from the impacts of the closures. As of May 2022, Wisconsin’s backlog of cases was over 35,000.  

According to a recent report by the Badger Institute, the time it has taken to resolve a felony criminal case has increased by 85% since 2003. For misdemeanors, the time has increased by over 100%. 


Badger Institute: Toward Swifter Justice: Overburdened Prosecutors and Public Defenders Linked to Wisconsin Court Backlogs

Wisconsin Public Radio: Wisconsin public defenders stress need for solutions to agency staffing shortage, case backlog

Wisconsin Courts: Wisconsin Courts COVID-19 Task Force: Final Report

PBS Wisconsin: Fixing Wisconsin’s criminal court case backlog

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Erin Gretzinger joined Wisconsin Watch as a reporting intern in May 2022. She is a journalism and French major at UW-Madison and will graduate in spring 2023. Erin previously worked for the Wisconsin State Journal as a reporting intern and served as the 2021-22 editor-in-chief at The Badger Herald. She is a recipient of the Jon Wolman Scholarship, the Sigrid Schultz Scholarship and the Joseph Sicherman Award Fund for her academic and reporting work.