As Dane County continues to suffer from glaring racial disparities in the rate of arrests and incarceration, three county-commissioned workgroups discussed their recommendations to alleviate inequity in the county’s criminal justice system.
The groups met Monday evening, Sept. 21, at the Alliant Energy Center to deliver their findings to the public.
The three workgroups each gave 10 recommendations focusing on a specific subject within the criminal justice system, including mental health, length of stay in jail and alternatives to arrest and incarceration.
One common recommendation among the three was a desire for better data collection and aggregation.
Each workgroup comprised of 13 members, including the group facilitator and a county staff member, and worked to bring different perspectives to the table on how best to deal with disparities.
Length of stay
Jacquelyn Boggess, facilitator for the workgroup on length of stay, said while the statistics clearly show the problems minorities face within the criminal justice system, more data is needed to better correct the systemic problems.
She said data is needed at every level of the criminal justice system, not just within Dane County jails, but within the District Attorney’s Office as well.
“You can’t have a conversation about race if you don’t know the numbers about race,” Boggess said.
Jim Moeser, facilitator of the mental health workgroup, said he recommends the county update the current county jail to reflect a more humane environment.
Moeser said the jail must move to eliminate solitary confinement as a punishment, beginning with those who have mental illness.
“The challenges that are created by the way the jail is structured around this issue of mental health and solitary confinement are significant,” Moeser said.
Moeser’s workgroup also called for a more culturally diverse workforce, which they listed as a no-cost recommendation.
Alternatives to arrest and incarceration
Lindsey Draper, facilitator for the alternatives to arrest and incarceration, recommended community advisory boards be established with the goal of reducing racial disparities by bolstering community policing.
Draper’s group also recommended the creation of a racial equity data analyst position within the county.
Boggess said a greater effort should be made to make inmates productive, perhaps by offering classes.
Boggess also recommended courts digitize their notification system for court dates in order to better reach minorities and prevent warrants being issued for missed summons.
The meeting concluded with members of the audience making statements before the facilitators, many voicing concern these recommendations would go unheeded.
“You can’t take the recommendations and leave them sit somewhere,” Rev. Joseph Baring said.
The Dane County Board of Supervisors will make the ultimate recommendation on the matter in the future.