Dane County Executive Joe Parisi will announce his proposed 2017 budget Thursday. 

MICHELLE STOCKER -- The Capital Times

A community restorative justice court pilot program would be expanded across Dane County under Executive Joe Parisi’s proposed 2017 budget, which will be presented at a noon press conference Thursday at the City-County Building.

The Community Restorative Court began in 2015 on Madison’s south side and its mission is to provide alternatives to the current justice system that gives victims a voice in the process.

“My budget resolution is going to expand eligibility to that restorative justice court countywide in an effort to open up the opportunity for diversion and making good with the community rather than entering the criminal justice system for low level offenders,” Parisi said.

The county currently spends $110,000 per year on the program.

“The more we can do to give people a chance to make good and own up to the the mistakes they've made … it’s a much more effective, cost-effective way to approach these kinds of challenges,” Parisi said.

The community-driven court receives referrals from law enforcement, the district attorney’s office and community members of young people between the ages of 17 and 25 who have committed misdemeanor crimes in south Madison. Offenders can avoid jail time and a criminal record if they accepts responsibility for the crime and help repair the harm through community service and sometimes financial restitution.

A panel of “peacemakers” facilitates the conversation between the offender and victim to ensure accountability and determine alternative sentencing options.

As of June, 30 individuals had participated in the program and 19, 63 percent, completed it, according to CRC Coordinator Ron Johnson. Out of those individuals completing the program, 14, or 74 percent, successfully completed the terms of the "repair harm" agreement.

Johnson said the program will follow up with respondents at six and 12 month intervals to see if they have committed any additional offenses.

The proposal to expand the restorative court comes after a county workgroup of leaders experienced in criminal justice recommended expanding the Community Restorative Court and other jail sentence alternatives.

“That’s significant because in my view, in order to really address the disproportionate number of people of color in the system, you have to keep them out of the traditional judicial system,” said Supervisor Paul Rusk, chair of the county’s Public Protection & Judiciary committee. “So if young people that have difficulty can go in a different direction, that is critical for the future.”

Other county budget equity initiatives

Parisi is also including over $600,000 in new operating budget equity initiatives.

“The overall theme that I hope to project in this budget is that equity and access to opportunity matters, and it matters to me and it’s something I’m going to keep pushing forward,” Parisi said.

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Among these is a proposal to add a second Operation Fresh Start Conservation crew, which is $60,000 in new funding. OFS is an alternative education and training organization for young adults who work toward their high school diploma and work on either a construction or conservation work team.

There is also a plan to double funding for an eviction prevention fund ($110,000), add a fourth gang intervention program leader ($76,500) and commit $79,500 to a “zone” network of family services on the north side.

Parisi also highlighted a $50,000 expansion to a program that pays for drivers education classes, so students can get their licenses. The additional funding would assist suburban school districts, growing from the pilot program started at Madison schools last year that served 50 students.

“In today's world if you don't have a valid driver's license, you’re automatically disqualified from being able to apply for a number of jobs,” Parisi said.

Additional equity initiatives include:

  • Office of Equity Inclusion program manager - $117,300
  • New Recruitment Software-Minority Employment Recruitment/Retention - $50,000
  • Madison School Drivers’ License Program - $50,000
  • Centro Hispano Sun Prairie Joining Forces for Family Latino Outreach Worker - $50,000
  • Equity Purchasing Coordinator - $45,000
  • Office of Equity Inclusion Administrative Support - $30,800 to make a full-time position
  • Continuing YWCA Drivers’ License Restoration
  • Continuing Southwest Madison Partnership-Orchard Ridge

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Abigail Becker joined The Capital Times in 2016, where she primarily covers city and county government. She previously worked for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and the Wisconsin State Journal.