Improving Dane County Criminal Justice System

In late September, I attended the Wisconsin Counties Association Conference. One of the most interesting sessions I attended was about the Lacrosse County justice system. Through collaboration between leaders of the county, city, judicial, law enforcement, and incarceration governmental organizations, as well as education and training of their respective staffs, fewer people are being jailed and fewer are becoming repeat offenders. More people are receiving training to improve their lives. There has also been a significant reduction in tax payer dollars being spent on the jail.

Dane County has also had past success in implementing programs that reduced the costs of resulting from operating the Dane County Jail. There is always more to be done.

In September, the Dane County Board of Supervisors released a report of recommendations designed to improve the criminal justice system. Recommendations were developed over the summer by three workgroups comprised of community members, criminal justice stakeholders, and county staff. In keeping with the Board’s commitment to racial equity, transparency, and community partnerships, the diverse work groups were established in May to build solutions to address racial disparity, mental health, and safety issues in Dane County’s criminal justice system. The workgroups all agreed on one immediate need: more data, including data on race, ethnicity, and gender.

Much of the success in LaCrosse County was attributed to data driven decision making. As Dane County Board Chair Sharon Corrigan said, “In a world that embraces data-driven decision making, it is simply not acceptable to lack this capacity in criminal justice.”

In addition to identifying the need for data collection and analysis, the three workgroups offered ten recommendations to address specific areas of need: Alternatives to Arrest and Incarceration; Length of Stay; and Mental Health, Solitary Confinement and Incarceration.

The workgroups made 31 recommendations to address concerns with aspects of the criminal justice system. In addition to the overarching recommendation regarding the need for data, two other themes that cut across the recommendations of the criminal justice workgroups include:
There must be a common understanding of implicit bias, racial equity, and cultural competence. Training is necessary in county government, courts, as well as with local law enforcement and service providers.

Criminal justice system staff should reflect the demographic composition of residents of Dane County and there should be an effort on the part of service providers to hire staff who reflect the racial and ethnic identity of their clients.

To further engage the public on this critical topic and gather feedback on the recommendations, the County Board will hold a community conversation on Monday, October 12 at 6 PM to 8:30 p.m. on the second floor of the Alliant Energy Center. Residents are encouraged to attend.

Details of each recommendation are in the full report, which is available for download here.

Posted in Newsletter.