“Does poverty cause crime, or does crime cause poverty?” 

Dane County Community Restorative Court coordinator Ron Johnson asked his fellow community members this question at a Thursday presentation which sought to discuss the recent movement against criminalizing poverty.

Johnson, a former teacher and principal, moved to Madison to work with CRC in 2014 after working with youth gangs in Milwaukee for 15 years. In addition to his work in Milwaukee, he traveled the country giving presentations about youth gang culture and worked with foster students.

Now Johnson, through CRC, seeks restorative justice for younger people to prevent them from going to prison.

Expanded restorative justice programs offer young offenders an escape from life behind barsFor most young people, the changes associated with coming of age can seem daunting, and when combined with the instability Read…

CRC was founded on the hopes of omitting racial disparities within the Dane County justice system. With the help of many, it now runs as an institution designed to positively influence people between 17 to 25 years old who have committed a misdemeanor.

It’s not only the offender who is affected — it is their family and their family’s economic status as well, Johnson said. When there are two incomes coming in and then one is gone, poverty can easily emerge.

“[CRC] should be victims based, offender focused and community driven,” Johnson said.

Johnson said he focuses on everyone as an individual. At CRC, Johnson doesn’t call the participants offenders — he refers to them as responders.

Restorative courts expand, give victims, community a voiceWith the goal of giving second chances and alternatives to prison, the Dane County Community Restorative Justice Court program has Read…

University of Wisconsin campus interns and interested community members help Johnson through voluntary opportunities where “peacemakers” are given 18 hours of training to work with the program’s participants. The peacemakers act as mentors and give the participants a shoulder to lean on or someone to hear their story.

Johnson explained the other benefits of the program, including the drop of a Wisconsin Circuit Court Access record and a ticketed fine. Johnson said having a CCAP record can be detrimental to a person’s future in the workforce, as it can be easily searched by employers or, as Johnson humored, “dads with daughters who are dating.”

Johnson stressed that CRC performs community service that “benefits the client and benefits the community.” Being comfortable is a huge part of Johnson’s theory to success, and he works on this by “being real.”

Moving forward, Johnson hopes to influence the nation with this program.

“We want to guarantee … that everyone succeeds,” Johnson said. “CRC wants to be a bridge and connect services between people.”