Last Friday night (5/29), I was one of literally hundreds of individuals who had the opportunity to listen to Reverend Dr. Alex Gee, Jr. at the Alliant Energy Center. For those who have not had the chance to listen to the oratory of Gee, make a point of putting it on your bucket list as he has the ability to keep an audience engaged and challenged as he works his magic in the room! Gee spoke on a theme entitled, "Our Madison Plan-Mobilizing Madison For Change."
The content and delivery for Gee's presentation was generated by his venerated "Justified Anger" consortium and the Nehemiah Center for Urban Leadership Development. At the conclusion of Gee's remarks, I came away with a feeling of synergy and hopefulness for the future of Greater Madison. The platform is ambitious and the goals are daunting but kudos and accolades to the various individuals and groups that are striving, in an inclusive way, to change the narrative for our City.
Sadly, the reality of today is that racial disparities in Madison and Dane County have created marked differences, along racial demographics, for outcomes relative to educational achievement, economic prosperity, and the criminal justice system. For our part, if MPD is part of the problem, then we are also anxious to be a part of the solution. We are committed to examining systems, evaluating practices, and exploring possibilities beyond the traditional default switch of ticketing or arresting away our concerns. One mechanism for change, restorative justice initiatives, holds real promise as a means of shifting paradigms and departing from doing "business as usual." Thus, this blog will feature a look at a new program slated to commence soon: the Dane County Community Restorative Court (CRC).
The CRC was created as an innovative way to handle misdemeanor cases and provides an alternative to the traditional law enforcement response. Under this pilot project, a cooperative venture of County and City resources, individuals are still held responsible for their actions but there is a collaborative effort to create a process which is sensitive and more adept at providing human services support; which will ultimately do more toward repairing the harm done to people and communities. The voices of victims are heard and community participation is critical to the success of this bold program.
What's different? Qualified persons who complete the terms of the program will not be subject to a "Consolidated Court Automation Program(s)," aka "CCAP," entry. Why is this a good thing? Because CCAP can be/has been abused with some unscrupulous and unethical employers or landlords as a scarlet letter in denying access to people who have a RAP sheet (record of arrest and prosecution). The stigma of an arrest record can have a shelf life that lasts forever, regardless of whether the case was deferred, dropped, or the subject was acquitted.
Who is the CRC designed for? Young people who are between 17-25 of age and who have committed a misdemeanor crime within the geographic boundaries of the South Madison Police District (remember: this is a "pilot" program that needs to be evaluated before considering expansion). The crimes that fall into a list of eligible misdemeanors include battery, disorderly conduct, obstructing an officer, theft and criminal damage to property.
What is the process? An offender/respondent will be offered the option to participate in the CRC if they are referred by a law enforcement practitioner/partner and meet the eligibility qualifications. As part of the terms, the individual has to acknowledge and take responsibility for their actions. Next, they must be willing to participate in the CRC. (By the way, the CRC Coordinator is not a "judge" in a conventional sense. The CRC Coordinator (Ron Johnson), acts as a facilitator who meets with both victims and respondents separately in developing a plan that repairs harm (victims), reduces risks, and re-builds the community. In this effort to meet these public policy objectives, the Coordinator will tap resource people, community members, and volunteer circle members to assist.
Unlike the traditional criminal justice approach, restorative justice initiatives focus on a more holistic platform that incorporates the needs of the victims, those who violate, and the affected community in a much more robust and participatory way. The principles that guide the CRC are synthesized as "victim-based, respondent-focused, and community-driven responses to address crime." Should these outcomes take root WITHOUT the necessity of a RAP sheet and a brick-and-mortar fallback, we will all be better served!
For more information on the Dane County Community Restorative Court, check out this link https://crc.countyofdane.com/faq. You can also contact the following individuals as well:
Mr. Ron Johnson, Dane County CRC Coordinator
810 W. Badger Road (Centro Hispano)
Madison, WI 53713
Captain Joe Balles, MPD South Police District
825 Hughes Place
Madison, WI 53713
Officer Mike Alvarez, Brams Addition Neighborhood Officer
825 Hughes Place
Madison, WI 53713