‘Heavy Users’ Clog up Dane Co. Courts

News 3 Investigation into thousands of records
‘Heavy Users’ Clog up Dane Co. Courts
April Feldbruegge, Derrick Moore, Jared Drinkins, Tyler Hawks

The day after Valentine’s Day, Derrick Lamont Moore stood silent in front of a Dane County Commissioner who looked at his computer screen to learn the story of the 33-year-old Madison resident known as “Man-Man.”

The felony retail theft charge Moore faced was the 14th time he had been charged with a crime in Dane County in the last two and a half years and a News 3 Investigation shows he’s not even the most-arrested and most-charged individual the county’s seen in that time.

A review of thousands of Dane County court records show 263 people in Dane County represent nearly 12 percent of all the alleged crimes in the county over the 28 months from June 2015-Oct. 15, 2017. There are 21 who have had initial appearances 10 or more times in that period, two of whom were there 14 times, so basically every other month.

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Percentage of crime by “heavy users”
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They are called “repeat customers,” “frequent fliers,” and “heavy users,” of the criminal justice system and uniformly, they present a current and potential future problem for victims, taxpayers and the alleged offenders themselves.

“The criminal justice system, it is broken,” said Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney, who knows many of those individuals personally. “By the time, they come to jail, the battle’s lost. We need to address it on the front end.”

Dane County’s Board of Supervisors agrees. It’s allocated money to understanding best practices from around the country for dealing with those “heavy users” of the system. One point that’s come up in the initial research is to encourage social service agencies to communicate with one another, so Human Services can speak with Child Protective Services, who can speak with the sheriff in an effort to identify problems and where resources can be directed to protect society.

“One of the big recommendations is the need for integrated data, so that we can look across the system, analyze patterns and figure out where to intervene early,” said County Board Chair Sharon Corrigan. “We’ve got to figure out the best way to do that and begin to do it. There’s probably a story behind every one of these cases.”

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Number of people facing multiple counts
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Maybe it’s substance issues, mental health issues or simple economic issues facing these people. News 3 reached out to many of the 21 people arrested and charged 10 or more times in that time frame, some currently in the Dane County Jail, and no one wanted to answer the question, “What could society have done to help?” Yet, that’s the question advocates say has to be asked and answered or else our society will pay a cost larger than simply incarceration.

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“There are not enough prevention and intervention programs here in Dane County to change the numbers that we’re seeing,” said Dane County Boys and Girls Club CEO Michael Johnson, who’s Facebook friends with three people on that list. He’s convinced government is not the only entity responsible for fixing this problem.

“We have more nonprofits in Dane County than any other place in the country on a per capita basis and we’re not talking with one another and we’re not coordinating with one another,” he said. “We’re not looking at the data to identify who these individuals are and using the technology to prevent these crimes from happening.”

Dane County is not the only location dealing with a problem of “heavy users.” Attorney General Brad Schimel said he experienced the same thing when he was Waukesha County District Attorney and at that time, he realized attention early on in the process is the only way to effect change.

“As a criminal justice system, we’re really kind of starting to crawl out of the cave and realize what we have been doing hasn’t been working,” Schimel said. “We recognize now if you don’t address the issues that cause the underlying behaviors, you should just expect the person’s on the clock until you see them again. You just start the clock running until the next time they’re coming back.”

For now, Derrick L. Moore will go through the system, maybe to trial, maybe to a not guilty verdict, maybe not. Either way, everyone we spoke with in the reporting of this story agrees, someone or some group of people need to reach out to him to find out how to keep him out of trouble when he’s released from custody.

“I don’t think anybody’s found the magic bullet that can fix this and I don’t know that there is such a thing,” said Vic Wahl, who is an assistant chief with the Madison Police Department, and who arrested at least two of the people on the list arrested more than 10 times when he was on patrol. “It’s such a complicated and overwhelming issue. There’s just not an easy fix. That’s the challenge.”