Community Restorative Court circle (copy)

Key partners in the Dane County Community Restorative Court explain the program in July 2016 while sitting in a circle, similar to how meetings between victims and offenders occur: From left, UW-Madison restorative justice expert Jonathan Scharrer, Dane County Board Supervisor Shelia Stubbs, restorative court coordinator Ron Johnson, special prosecutor Barb Franks and Capt. John Patterson of the Madison Police Department's South District. Restorative Court is part of the county's efforts to reduce racial disparities in the criminal justice system. Another part of the county's effort is an upcoming Dec. 14 workshop on implicit bias.

Like many of my colleagues on the Dane County Board, I struggled with the recent decision to fund the remodeling of the Dane County jail.

For me, the issue was highly personal given the disproportionate toll incarceration has taken on people of color both here and across the nation. As you may recall from past reports, the incarceration rate between black and white for the adult population of Dane County is approximately eight to one. The juvenile justice rate is even worse.

As an African-American woman, mother, former probation officer, pastor and community activist, I know the reality behind the numbers. They reflect the shared experience within my own community.

There have been some recent improvements, but to improve the safety of all residents we need to improve justice and equity for all residents.

Since 2008, I have worked with Dane County staff, stakeholders and community members to reduce the racial disparities within our criminal justice system. Through the Criminal Justice Council, its Racial Disparities Subcommittee plus the 2015 County Board work groups on Criminal Justice, we have influenced public policy in a variety of ways to reduce incarceration rates.

These efforts include:

• Community Restorative Court.

• Smart pretrial solutions.

• Data-driven decisions.

• Ongoing commitment to racial equity and criminal justice.

• Greater transparency.

But this crisis took years to create and only forward-thinking, smart solutions developed and implemented with community stakeholders will solve it.

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To that end, Dane County is one of just 40 jurisdictions selected recently to participate in the MacArthur Foundation Safety and Justice Challenge, a national effort aimed specifically at reducing the use of county jails. Additionally, in the coming weeks we will announce an innovation competition designed to enhance and improve the Community Restorative Court.

And on Thursday, Dec. 14, the Dane County Criminal Justice Council and County Board is welcoming representatives of the Washington, D.C.-based Perception Institute for a workshop on addressing implicit racial bias. This free event runs from 5 to 7 p.m. at Fountain of Life Church at 633 W. Badger Road and is open to the public.

There is no question Dane County is working hard to learn best practices and new strategies to change our criminal justice system. We have engaged community advocates as well as national reform leaders to make immediate changes to the criminal justice system. At the same time, we continue to pursue long-term solutions to restore and rebuild justice for all residents.

Please join me in the next step on that journey by attending the “Community Conversation on Race and Criminal Justice” featuring the Perception Institute on Dec. 14 at Fountain of Life Church.

Shelia Stubbs is Dane County supervisor for District 23. 

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