Dane County Is a State Leader on Front End Justice Research

January 24, 2019
Sharon Corrigan - 608.333.2285 or Collen Clark - Bernhardt 608.266.3022
County Board

Dane County has embraced two critical research efforts at the front end of the criminal justice system, focusing on arrest data, as well as pretrial (bail) assessment and services.  The goal is to reduce bookings into jail at a time when the county is committed to a reduction in jail beds in the future remodeled facility.


The county is in the middle of a multi-year relationship with the Access to Justice Lab at Harvard University, studying the impact of the PSA (pretrial safety assessment) initiative.  The assessment, based on multiple data points, helps inform whether an individual should be released or held in jail.  Dane County is completing research to determine the impact of the approach on future behavior and is on the cutting edge of this criminal justice analysis.


“I’m proud to say we are the only county in the state working to study this kind of front-end data,” said Dane County Board Chair Sharon Corrigan (District 26, Middleton). “Collecting as much information as possible and sharing it with all stakeholders is vital for improving policy choices.”


An effort recently underway, the Capstone project funded by the MacArthur Foundation and the Urban Institute, focuses on an analysis of data from arrest through the pretrial system, including the creation of data models to inform criminal justice system players, and ultimately lead to decisions that will reduce jail population. The Capstone project will allow stakeholders to glean integrated data from two disparate systems and across agencies. Racial equity is a priority for Dane County and this effort will allow tracking of race, gender, age and the type of violation that led to an arrest.


Community engagement will be key to this process, with local law enforcement and criminal justice stakeholder input, as well as local advocacy group and service provider consultation. The priorities and perspectives of community stakeholders will help inform the building of the data model.


Supervisor Kelly Danner (District 11 Madison), who serves as Vice Chair of the County Board’s Public Protection and Judiciary Committee, said that it will take a coordinated effort among residents impacted by the criminal justice system, community leaders, elected officials and professional staff to address ongoing racial disparities.


“This opportunity to analyze the data and develop models can only help us better understand the challenges we face both in reducing our jail population and addressing the gaps that persist along racial lines,” she said,


Over the past two years Dane County has been awarded $70,000 in grants as part of the MacArthur Foundation’s “Safety and Justice Challenge,” a national $100 million initiative to create fairer and more effective criminal justice systems across the country. It goes by the social media hashtag “#rethinkjails”.


Dane County is one of 40 jurisdictions selected by MacArthur to design and test innovative local justice reforms. Monies from MacArthur were earlier used to support the Dane County Community Restorative Court, an approach to divert young offenders from the criminal justice system and help them work toward positive changes.


“These grants have allowed Dane County to lead on front end justice, and have opened the door for national experts to help us in this critical work,” said Supervisor Maureen McCarville (District 22, DeForest), chair of the Public Protection and Judiciary Committee. “But I want to emphasize the importance of engaging with the public on this. It’s not enough to analyze data alone, it needs to be paired with stories of Dane County residents’ experience.  It is the story behind the data that brings home the urgency of this work.”


More information on MacArthur’s Safety and Justice Challenge is available at http://www.safetyandjusticechallenge.org/


More information on the Dane County Criminal Justice Council, including arrest trends and demographics, is available at: https://cjc.countyofdane.com/

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