The Dane County Board has formed a work group to review adult and juvenile jail diversion programs.
Diversion programs, which allow inmates to serve time via monitored house arrest, have been a prominent element of proposed reforms to the Dane County criminal justice system, which have been in the works since last year.
“Our diversion programs have failed to serve every sector of our community,” said Dorothea Watson, a public defender who was appointed to the diversion program work group. “I think it’s going be a very productive discussion.”
Dane County criminal justice system reform was spurred by prominent protests from the Young, Gifted and Black Coalition and other community groups in 2015. The protests decried racial disparities in the system.
According to a 2013 study from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, Wisconsin has the highest incarceration rate of African-American men in the country.
The Dane County Board’s criminal justice workgroups, which were paired with a 2015 board resolution aimed at reform, called for an expansion of diversion services, with particular focus on reducing incarceration rates for people of color.
Other recommendations included developing culturally-specific diversion programming and services led by African-American and Latino organizations.
The diversion program work group, which includes 11 members from government, law enforcement and community organizations, has been tasked with reviewing all current adult and juvenile diversion programs and their criteria for admission and successful completion, developing a framework to ensure equal access to existing programs, identifying barriers to enrollment in and successful completion of diversion programs and developing a list of potential partner organizations.
“I’m happy actions are being taken,” said work group member Linda Ketchum, executive director of the Madison-Area Urban Ministry.
Madison-Area Urban Ministry frequently works with individuals who have been involved with the criminal justice system. Many are unaware diversion programs are an option for them, Ketchum said.
“I think the people who are affected by this are worth the time spent,” she said. “Whether the county will actually do anything with it is another question.”
Other members of the group include Dane County Jail administrator Capt. Richelle Anhalt, Dane County Jail re-entry coordinator Jerome Dillard and Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne.
In 2014, Ozanne spoke with the Cap Times about the importance of reforming diversion programs.
“We … need legitimate diversion programs at the front end to affect those who are coming into the system so we can truly say people who are coming into the system need to be in the system,” he said.
The work group was appointed jointly by Supervisor Paul Rusk, chair of the county’s Public Protection and Judiciary Committee, and Supervisor Jeremy Levin, who chairs the Health and Human Needs Committee.
The group’s first meeting is tentatively scheduled for mid-February.