Dane County began its intentional work towards racial equity in 2008 when Governor Jim Doyle established a commission and produced a report on racial disparities in criminal justice. Each county was charged with creating its own task force. In 2008, Dane County created a task force made up of over 20 system professionals, community advocates, grassroots leaders and subject matter experts. This diverse team researched local and national practices seeking solutions to Dane County’s huge disproportionalities in the criminal justice system. The report “Dane County Task Force on Racial Disparities in the Criminal Justice System” was issued in 2009. The report has been used by the Racial Disparities Sub-Committee of the Dane County Criminal Justice Council as a blueprint for work—system wide.
Urgency around racial inequity (especially between whites and blacks) was delivered in 2013 via a nationally funded report by Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, “Race to Equity: A Baseline Report on the State of Racial Disparities in Dane County.” This report compared eight different indicators between black and white residents of Dane County, including: poverty, juvenile justice, adults, adult criminal justice, policy, and education. The Race to Equity Report was a further call to action around multiple indicators—not just criminal justice—for the Dane County community and its leaders.
In the spring of 2014, the Dane County Board of Supervisors passed a racial equity resolution designed to formalize the county’s response to racial inequities. Subsequent to the passage of the resolution, a “Racial Equity and Social Justice” (RESJ) team was developed at the request of the County Executive and County Board Chair. This RESJ team consists of staff representing every department in county government. The RESJ team is developing a solid foundation and framework of racial equity across county departments. It includes four action teams: the Data team, the Tools and Models team, the Training team, and a Community partnership team. Initially, the RESJ team is reviewing equity in hiring and outreach utilizing the GARE racial equity tool.
To add to overall effectiveness, the Dane County Board of Supervisors chose racial equity as the area to focus the audit of county operations this year (each year a different area is chosen). The County contracted with the Government Alliance on Race and Equity and the Center for Social Inclusion to conduct the Dane County Racial Equity Analysis.
One outcome of Dane County’s racial equity work to highlight is the Community Restorative Court. This restorative justice model is the result of the recommendations of the 2009 Task Force Report, internal work of the Racial Disparities Sub Committee, and finally a grant funded opportunity to take a community, county and city team to New York City to review and witness best practices, as hosted by the Center for Court Innovation.
The Community Restorative Court provides 17-25 year olds the opportunity to avoid misdemeanors being cited with a state statute violation, placing individuals into the Consolidated Court Automation Program (CCAP). Now, young adults who go through the Community Restorative Court rather than the traditional criminal justice system can avoid a small violation showing up on their record and permanently affecting their future opportunities. The age demographic was selected after reviewing arrest patterns and services available.
Dane County has shown commitment and leadership in racial equity since 2008. For greater success, Dane County will need to embed a racial equity framework in each department, partner effectively with community, and build greater will and commitment – both internally and externally. Data and accountability measures need to be developed to track and monitor progress.