Community Restorative Court expands in Dane County

Community Restorative Court expands in Dane County

Dane County’s community restorative courts are joining a national effort to improve the criminal justice system.

The county is one of 20 counties and cities to receive grants to improve criminal justice reforms. A $50,000 donation from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArther Foundation will provide an expansion to the county’s current program.

The purpose of the grant is to enable communities to design and test innovative local justice reforms designed to reduce jail usage and racial disparities in the judicial system.

The Community Restorative Court is in south Madison. The program started two years ago as a pilot program for the city.

Grant funding will allow the program to expand throughout all of Dane County. Funding received will support the program in providing technical assistance in design and training and to implement local reforms.

“The Community Restorative Court is a great example of what can be accomplished when community partners work together,” said Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne, in a statement.

The program brings people ages 17-25 who’ve committed a misdemeanor crime face-to-face with their victims in a circle discussion to determine restitution without facing formal charges. The CRC also helps the offender with issues related to employment, healthy relationships and other basic needs to prevent reoffending.

Caroline Werner has seen the change the program can have firsthand. Werner is a “peace maker” for the program that helps facilitate discussion.

“You can take someone with all types of issues and make them whole again, and make the victim whole, too. They understood each other. By the end both of them were crying. Both of them hugged each other. It restores the solidarity in the community,” she said.

In the past year, two high-profile cases have been referred to the restorative court system, including University of Wisconsin-Madison student Denzel McDonald, accused of spray painting political graffiti on campus property last spring, and Genele Laird, who was accused of threats and resisting arrest at East Towne Mall.

“It helps young people to understand the implications of this misbehavior and that goes a much longer way to just sending them through the original criminal justice center,” said Barbra Franks, special prosecutor, Dane County DA’s office.

Ron Johnson, coordinator for the program, said the system has been successful.

Since its start two years ago, 63 people have gone through the program. Three people either did not complete the program or opted out. With the extra resources the court will be able to double their current case load of around 30 people. The long-term goal is to expand the court system statewide.

“When you look at mothers’ faces and young people’s faces, (you see) the burden that has been lifted off of them that they have had a second chance,” Johnson said.

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