A new work group will seek to shed light on the shortcomings and successes of Dane County’s many jail diversion programs.
Diversion programs are designed to prevent people from serving more jail time through providing rehabilitation, specialized court programs or lessening the impact of pretrial arrest. For example, the bail monitoring program offers those who cannot afford bail the option of release without paying bail on the condition of heightened monitoring using GPS tracking, Dane County supervisor Leland Pan said.
A Dane County official and public defender agreed to take a closer look at diversion programs in order to combat racial disparities. The county board formed the work group as a result of recommendations three previous work groups had made in September 2015, aiming to identify specific problems within the local criminal justice system.
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The work groups released 10 recommendations on ways Dane County could counter growing racial disparity within the justice system. The county adopted several of these recommendations, including the creation of an equity analyst position, Dorothea Watson, a public defender of 29 years and member of the new work group, said.
Dane County and Wisconsin as a whole have long suffered from glaring disparities within the criminal justice system.
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Watson said almost everyone within the Dane County criminal justice system agrees the diversion programs have not reached enough minority individuals. She said a desire for more data on the causes of racial disparities within the criminal justice system is one of the rationales behind the creation of the work group.
“We recognized that we have a real need for some actual data,” Watson said.
Some diversion programs the work group is targeting include drug courts, veterans court, first offenders program and bail monitoring programs, Watson said.
County government officials are aware of the shortcomings within these programs, Pan said. One possible reason disparities have continued could be that white communities take advantage of diversion programs more often than minority communities.
Pan said there is a serious lack of data pertaining to the causes of disparities.
Watson said it is too early to have any idea of what the workgroup might discover, let alone what it may recommend.
But Watson said she hopes to learn the number of minorities referred to diversion programs and the proportion accepted.
The work group will meet until June and hopefully, Watson said, they will have recommendations ready for the 2017 budget.
A previous version this article incorrectly referred to Dorothea Watson as the new equity analyst. The Badger Herald regrets this error.