Issues of racial disparity in Dane County have been well-chronicled. Whether the context be education, economics or the criminal justice system, the sad fact remains that people of color are starkly impacted. In the near future, an ad hoc committee convened by the City will examine our policies, procedures, and training to see--among many items up for consideration-- whether there are any systems currently in place that may have unintended deleterious effects. MPD welcomes the opportunity to be a part of this review and I am hopeful that constructive suggestions can be brought forward. I am also confident that this committee will be provided a first-hand look at a number of things the Department is currently doing in the area of systems improvements, building trust and community engagement.
Earlier in the year, MPD formed a partnership with Dane County Human Services staff and the District Attorney's Office to create and participate in a "Community Restorative Court" (CRC) pilot project. Thanks to funding provided through the Dane County Executive Budget, we now have this pilot program operating in the South Police District to address misdemeanor violations for qualifying offenders between the ages of 17-25 in a restorative justice model (as opposed to the formal criminal justice system). Granted, this is a "baby" step that is modest as an initial offering, but the potential for expanding the eligible offenses and the reach of the program (geographically) holds great promise.
Most recently (September), MPD launched another new restorative justice-based model for juveniles (12-16 years of age*) to whom we have issued a city ordinance citation. Unlike the pilot project in the South Police District, this initiative will have citywide application. In a review of the citations issued in 2014, juveniles of color comprised a significant majority of those who received tickets. As these are forfeiture actions (i.e., non-crimes), the municipal court has limited authority and few resources that can be offered to those youths who are having adverse contacts with law enforcement. Ironically, our juvenile justice system is structured in such a way that a youth must commit crimes before any meaningful interventions with social services agencies can occur. With this new initiative, we are working with community partners to implement a restorative justice based procedure in lieu of formally referring 12-16 year old offenders to the Madison Municipal Court. Under this newly-forged option, the juvenile can access a host of services that could not otherwise be obtained under a conventional/traditional referral process.
By way of illustration, all MPD officers who believe that a non-traffic ordinance citation is legally appropriate to issue to a 12-16 year old offender will provide the individual with a copy of a brochure which explains how they can opt in to participate in a new program. The YWCA, Dane County Human Services, Dane County TimeBank, Madison Municipal Court and MPD are working as partners in this venture. Should the juvenile elect to pursue this pilot program, the brochure describes how they can initiate contact with the YWCA Restorative Justice Program. The YWCA currently has a contract with Dane County Human Services to provide restorative justice alternatives and to coordinate the referral process. The YWCA and Dane County TimeBank will also be teaming up to provide services (i.e., peer circles or peer court, similar to those already being used in Madison high schools).
The YWCA will notify MPD when the offender completes the restorative justice process, or if they fail to complete it. MPD will re-issue citations to offenders who enroll but do not complete the requirements of the program; these matters will be referred back to Municipal Court for traditional resolutions. The "beauty" of a restorative justice process is that the program still holds youth accountable for their actions by trained peers who can assist the juvenile in fostering healing relationships with those in the community who have been harmed by the actions of the violator. There is an affirmative attempt to make the community "whole" again by finding an appropriate and compatible fit that identifies something the youth can relate to with a mechanism for "service" returned to the community.
MPD will continue to explore other program options that balance keeping communities safe and restored, holding people accountable for their behavior(s), and finding alternatives to traditional brick-and-mortar criminal justice "solutions."
*It should be noted that this program can only extend to juveniles under the age of 17. Under current Wisconsin law, a person 17 years of age or older who is alleged to have violated a criminal law (or non-status offense ordinances), is automatically waived into an adult court. There is currently a bill before the State Legislature that would return 17 year olds back to the jurisdiction of juvenile courts. I support this change as another way to avoid having youthful offenders (still in high school) of being thrust into adult courts and premature entries into Consolidated Court Automation Programs (CCAP).