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The Dane County Board received an update from the Dane County Criminal Justice Council Thursday as the group seeks to secure funding for the next fiscal year.

The presentation focused on the newly minted website the CJC created to allow access to data on arrest records and jail statistics. Colleen Clark-Bernhard, project manager for the CJC, detailed initiatives which have been implemented so far.

Past work groups and studies indicated that a major problem with the Dane County justice system was a lack of data, so much of the CJC’s work has been on gathering and processing data, Clark-Bernhardt said. The CJC’s new website has detailed arrest data throughout the five cities of Dane County along with an interactive map breaking down each police department’s numbers.

Clark-Bernhardt said the CJC has continued to address two demographics which make up the majority of the jail population, those who cannot afford bail and those who are deemed “frequent users.” She said frequent users are individuals who for whatever reason find themselves in jail regularly due to problems like homelessness or untreated mental health issues.

The CJC began trying to identify and address these two populations as part of the Data Driven Justice program, an Obama era initiative adopted by the National Association of Counties. The program looks to better understand the populations that wind up in jail more often so counties can respond appropriately while also sharing data and strategies among counties nationwide.

“Data Driven Justice doesn’t answer the critical human services question but it embeds the system with data and in that sense can really improve some processes,” Clark-Bernhardt said.

Clark-Bernhardt also described the usefulness of the pretrial Public Safety Tool used by judges to determine whether a defendant ought to be detained when awaiting trial. She said the program uses defendant data to extrapolate the threat level the defendant poses to the community.

According to the CJC’s website, the tool is race-neutral and is currently employed in 30 other jurisdictions. Dane County is also allowing Harvard researchers to study the use of the PST in a long-term study that will evaluate its impact on racial disparities, the study is slated to conclude in 2021.

Despite making considerable strides, Clark-Bernhardt stressed that in the future the county would have to more directly fund the analyst’s currently paid for by grant money.

“Right now we do have a lot of funding, but that was originally to assist in hiring assessors,” Clark-Bernhardt said. “The deeper we go into research and innovation, at some point you have to invest in those things if the county thinks that's important.”

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