A Madison man through and through, Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne is working on innovating the way the county handles criminal justice.
After going to Madison West High School and University of Wisconsin for his undergraduate degree, Ozanne attended UW Law School and was hired for the Dane County District Attorney’s office after he graduated in 1998.
The county is currently facing reports about racial equity in the criminal justice system and racial disparities within the criminal justice system, Ozanne said. Wisconsin was recently reported as the worst state for opportunities for children of color.
These issues have led to the lack of cooperation from many victims and witnesses because they do not view the system as fair and equitable, Ozanne said. The county is seeking preventative methods of handling criminal justice to close these disparity gaps, he said.
Ozanne seeks to handle criminal cases by getting to the root of the issue. He said those that commit serious or violent crimes need to go to prison. However, if he has the ability to deal with the root cause of what brings someone into the system, such as drug addiction or mental health problems, he would like to do so in a meaningful way and looks to keep these individuals away from the system altogether.
Ozanne said he increased the number of Dane County diversion counselors from five to seven. One of the counselors specifically deals with heroin and opiate addicted offenders, he said.
Ozanne said he is looking to develop a risk assessment tool specific to opiate addicted offenders that can be used statewide. The second counselor was added to deal with the abuse and neglect of children with the hope that this program will ensure kids do not fall through the cracks, he said.
There has been an extensive amount of research recently about the impacts of non-violent parenting, brain development, and abuse and neglected child development. Ozanne said the effects of abuse and neglect follows children for the rest of their life if the trauma is not dealt with, and this shows in the criminal justice system.
Consequently, Ozanne said their program is looking at changing the behavior of parents whose kids are coming through the system because of excessive corporal punishment or physical punishment.
“If we reduce abuse and neglect we can keep those kids out of the foster care system, we can keep those kids out of the delinquency system, and we can keep them from walking into the adult system, which will have the impact were looking to have on the criminal justice system,” Ozanne said.
The county is creating a community core for youthful offenders ages 17 to 25, and a conference and a community-based discussion is scheduled for June. He said the community core program will allow law enforcement to refer offenders of low-level misdemeanor crimes to the community core and avoid lifetime criminal commissions.
These deterrent programs have been used in other cities across the country and have brought some homicide rates down by 20 percent, Ozanne said.
“We need to be asking if the amount we’ve been spending on incarceration and what we’ve been doing is keeping us safe and if its not we need to rethink what we’ve been doing and get to something that is going to make a difference,” Ozanne said. “That is going to make an impact, and is going to keep us safer.”