Dane County is joining with the White House and the National Association of Counties in an effort to stop the cycling of incarceration in America.

The Dane County Criminal Justice Council is participating in the Data-Driven Justice Initiative, a program that uses data to decrease jail populations. They are joining more than 120 jurisdictions around the nation that are already participating in the initiative.

The Criminal Justice Council is a collaborative body made up of criminal justice stakeholders in Dane County. Data-driven decision making has been a guiding principle of the council for a number of years. The Data-Driven Initiative lifts and supports this work.

Sharon Corrigan, chair of Dane County Board of Supervisors and Criminal Justice Council member, said to reform the criminal justice system, Dane County must make decisions based on data. This data includes people that enter the criminal justice system, why these individuals are in the system and what happens to them once in the system. Corrigan said this data-drive reform will allow Dane County to address racial disparities, mental health issues, substance abuse and other health issues.

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Dane County has met with a number of advocacy groups including mental health groups, the length of stay work group and alternatives to incarceration work group last year to make recommendations on reform to Dane County’s criminal justice system. Corrigan said the number one recommendation from these groups was to get a better understanding of data.

“We have to be able to measure this [criminal justice system] in order to manage it,” Corrigan said.

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Colleen Clark-Bernhardt, Equity and Criminal Justice Council coordinator for the Dane County Board of Supervisors, said for the last five years Dane County officials and community members have called for a better understanding of data from the criminal justice system. To understand this information, Dane County has hired a data analyst to help use this information to better the criminal justice system.

The data analyst is responsible for collecting data from the sheriff’s office, district attorney’s office and others players in the criminal justice system to track all the information available, Corrigan said.

Before the push for data-driven justice, Clark-Bernhardt said each individual department was isolated from one another. These different entities have different expertise, and with the use of data to track markers in the criminal justice system, law enforcement can gain a better understanding of the system.

As a part of the White House’s initiative, the Criminal Justice Council has pledged to combine data from across the criminal justice system to identify high-risk individuals and provide effective and community-based solutions to break cycles of incarceration, help first-responders to de-escalate crisis situations and use evidence-based assessment tools in pre-trial assessments.

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Corrigan said pre-trial assessments are an important part of this new initiative. These are assessments in which an individual appears before the court commissioner after the arrest to determine whether to keep the individual in jail or what conditions will be put on their bail if they are released.

Collecting data on the background of people entering the criminal justice system will be instrumental in helping the court commissioner determine if they are at risk to offend again or are a risk of fleeing the charges.

The national presence of the Data-Driven Justice Initiative will help change the criminal justice system within Dane County and will allow the Criminal Justice Council to collaborate with others outside their jurisdiction, Corrigan said.

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Clark-Bernhardt said being a part of this initiative will expose Dane County to resources nationwide. These resources include grants and funding support from national nonprofit and corporate partners that are motivated to reform the criminal justice system. Through the initiative, Dane County will also have access to information from other jurisdictions to help understand what changes can help create a better system.

“We are ready to be more innovative,” Clark-Bernhardt said. “The CJC collaborate on a higher level than a lot of counties, and it is that kind of synergy that is going to help us move criminal justice forward in an equitable way.”