Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Take Action: Dane County Board to Vote on Racial Disparity Action Team

It’s no secret that Wisconsin has a real problem with the arrest and incarceration of a disproportionate number of people of color. Wisconsin is often cited as being among the top states with disproportionate minority incarceration, even when compared to neighboring states like Minnesota and Illinois. The capitol city and Dane County are no exception.

When Governor Doyle created a statewide task force to research and address the problem back in May of 2008, the group’s work culminated in a report issued by the Office of Justice Assistance on racial disparities in the criminal justice system. Dane County’s Office of Equal Opportunity created a task force of their own and issued their own report about the problem on the local level.

We often hear stories from people who contact the ACLU because they feel they were subject to racial profiling, police abuse or discriminatory treatment by the criminal justice system. And each person’s story stays with us while we try to navigate a sometimes frustrating system of task forces and reports. But systemic change happens one task force meeting and one page of a report at a time. And Dane County is poised to take one step forward in taking real action on the problem of disproportionate minority incarceration.

On Thursday, May 20, the county board will consider a resolution accepting the Dane County Task Force on Racial Disparities in the Criminal Justice System and create a Recommendation Implementation Team. The meeting begins at 7:00 p.m. in room 201 of the City-County building in Madison. Dane County residents are welcome to attend and register in support of Resolution 235, 09-10 on this issue.

This is an important step in the work of local leaders to do something about the many systemic problems that result in the disproportionate minority incarceration rate in Dane County. An implementation team with teeth is needed to improve police practices, allow for common sense prosecution and sentencing alternatives (especially for juvenile offenders), improve the complaint resolution process, and set up reentry programs to stop the revolving door for people who could reoffend.

A copy of Thursday night’s meeting agenda can be found online (PDF). More information on the Dane County Office of Equal Opportunity Task Force, their research and final report with recommendations for action can also be found on their website.

If you live in Dane County, please contact your county board supervisor in support of Resolution 235, 09-10 on creating a county implementation team on racial disparities in the criminal justice system. You can find your board supervisor’s contact information on the board’s website.