Starting Sept. 15, all youth who violate Madison ordinances will have the option to avoid fines and a conviction record by instead turning to a new restorative justice program to address their violations.
The program, announced Tuesday by a collaboration of Dane County and Madison leaders, will offer youth ages 12 to 16 the option of restorative justice, working with the YWCA and the Dane County TimeBank to complete peer court and restorative sentencing.
“It’s well chronicled that we have some starkness that has to be reconciled in terms of those things which are harmful or impactful within our criminal justice system to people of color, but in particular where those things get their start, what is the genesis,” said Madison Police Chief Mike Koval. “Of course we see that there’s a pipeline that dates back to their youth.”
Last year, there were more than 800 municipal citations issued to youth ages 12 to 16, comprising about a quarter of all arrests by the Madison Police Department. About 75 percent of those were issued to youth of color.
“You get an arrest and a civil conviction for disorderly conduct, retail theft, it impacts your ability to get a driver’s license, which impacts your ability to get a job, go to school,” said YWCA restorative justice policy and partnerships associate Carousel Bayrd. “These things, once you’re in, they impact the rest of your life.”
Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said there’s also the financial impact, using a $1,300 Fitchburg fine for possession of small amounts of marijuana as an example.
“If you’re a family living in poverty, $1,300 might as well be $100,000,” Parisi said.
Instead, this program, if completed, will allow youth to avoid an arrest record, a conviction record and high fines.
The program is funded through a $208,000 grant from the Brighter Futures Initiative and Early Intervention Program, which will cover it through the end of the calendar year with potential to reapply.
It will start the week of Sept. 15, with police officers providing a brochure to youth who are given a citation and mailing a letter to their parents with the restorative justice information and brochure. The YWCA will also get a list of citations issued every week and will reach out to families directly, Bayrd said. If families contact the YWCA before their court date, then the ticket will be put on hold and won’t go to court unless the youth does not complete the restorative justice process.
“Restorative justice is about addressing harm, it’s not about letting people off the hook,” said YWCA CEO Rachel Krinsky, pointing to success they’ve had running a restorative justice program in Madison schools.
The process involves meeting about challenges, why the violation happened and how they can solve the root problems.
Youth will appear before a peer court through the Dane County TimeBank, which will determine the best way to address the problem. The sentence is almost always restorative, Bayrd said, and it could involve writing a letter, fixing damage created by the offender, getting a job, volunteering or figuring out what he or she is going to do with their time after school.
Once the offender has completed the program, the YWCA will write back to the court and the ticket will go away. If an individual doesn’t complete it, the ticket will go to court.
“We’re focusing to keep youth out of the criminal justice system,” Bayrd said. “Once you’re in the criminal justice system, you’re more likely to stay in.”
Dane County TimeBank founder and co-director Stephanie Rearick said the community-building aspect helps create a social connection for the youth and works to address all of the economic, social, recreational and other necessary elements growing up.
“Going in front of a judge doesn’t do that for you and never will,” Rearick said.
If the pilot goes well, the long-term goal is to extend the timeline and potentially scale it up across the county, not just in Madison.
“We’re trying to really have a positive impact,” Bayrd said. “It’s incredibly exciting and huge and daunting and wonderfully collaborative.”