With assistance from a $50,000 John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation grant and partnership, Dane County will expand a community court countywide and receive access to national experts to continue criminal justice reform.
Dane County was one of 20 municipalities selected to participate in the $100 million initiative to reduce incarceration called the Safety and Justice Challenge. The county will focus on supporting the Community Restorative Court’s expansion, including training local peacemakers.
“This program would not continue if the community did not believe in it,” Supervisor Shelia Stubbs, who represents the district where the community court's pilot program is located, said. “We know it makes vital change in the community.”
Stubbs highlighted the partnerships that make the community court possible including Dane County's Criminal Justice Council, the UW Law School, the Madison Police Department and community members who volunteer for the court.
The CRC’s county-funded budget is $200,000, which includes the salary of a second social worker who will be hired in May. That amount is up from $115,000 in 2016. CRC Coordinator Ron Johnson said the grant funding will help the program expand outside of Madison’s south side, train more peacemakers, obtain facilities to hold meetings and double its caseload to 60.
The CRC began as a pilot program in 2015 and its mission is to provide alternatives to the current justice system, while giving victims a voice in the process. A panel of volunteer “peacemakers” facilitate the conversation between the offender and victim to ensure accountability and determine alternative sentencing options.
The community-driven court receives referrals from law enforcement, the district attorney’s office and community members of young people between the ages of 17 and 25 who have committed misdemeanor crimes. Offenders can avoid jail time and a criminal record if they accept responsibility for the crime and help repair the harm through community service and sometimes financial restitution.
Barbara Franks, speaking as a representative of the district attorney’s office, said the program gives young adults a chance to avoid criminal records or listings on Wisconsin Circuit Court Access database, commonly called CCAP.
"The program helps young people understand the importance of their misbehavior in the community, and I think that goes a longer way than sending them through the original criminal justice system,” Franks said.
Madison Police Chief Koval said the grant is an opportunity to examine ways to improve the criminal justice system.
“As practitioners, we long for an alternative, a paradigm shift,” Koval said. “We more than anybody understand we cannot ticket and arrest and typecast people for the rest of their lives because of CCAP. The brick and mortar option has proven ineffective.”