‘We have a problem’: Police, community leaders look for different approach in addressing repeat juvenile crime

MADISON, Wis. – When it comes to crimes like stealing cars, Madison police say they’re often arresting the same teenagers over and over again, and if nothing changes, the cycle will continue.

That’s why Capt. Michael Hanson said he’s working with community leaders and juvenile judges to find ways to prevent repeat arrests among youth.

“It’s very frustrating. The cycle has been there for years,” Hanson said. “Frankly, arresting our way out of all these juvenile crimes is not the answer.”

He said young people caught up on the wrong path need immediate lifelines, may it be resources to improve family life, education or employment.

“We need to have a Band-Aid approach for youth now, but long-term investment further down to their siblings,” Hanson said.

He said it will take more than police.

“We really need to look at the totality of the circumstances between silos, between the criminal justice system itself, state laws, and start from scratch and say we have a problem,” Hanson said. “We have a problem that we’re arresting a 14-year-old for his fifth time stealing a car. We have a problem where these youth are committing shootings where innocent people are struck or even killed. Until that message resonates at higher levels than I, in the state legislature and the state government, we’re going to still be here at Groundhog’s Day.”

Community leaders lift teens out of cycle

Brian Britt, also known as Mr. Inspire, runs Inspire Barber College at East Towne Mall, which is geared at helping troubled teens.

“I meet them where they’re at mentally,” Britt said.

Beyond helping young people get started in haircutting, the college also offers a safe haven and lessons on things like finances.

“I understand what they wasn’t getting, what I wasn’t getting, and I’m giving them all that in one bundle,” Britt said.

He and Corey Marionneaux, founder of the Black Men Coalition of Dane County, said they were once in the same shoes as the teens they’re working with today.

“If I had more positive influence, I believe that really would have helped me do better,” Marionneaux said. “I was straddling the fence. I went to college, then when I got out of college, I was doing other things I shouldn’t have been doing. If I had just had the push to stay on that side of the fence, I think I would’ve been a better person at a sooner time in my life.”

Marionneaux said the criminal justice system needs work, including more alternative programs to locking young people up. Britt said they’re working with Judge Everett Mitchell.

“If we’re constantly punishing, it’s not teaching them,” Britt said. “It’s teaching them when someone hit you, hit them back, instead of instilling something positive and good in them they can use as them as true life skills.”

They’ve had teens visit the shop in recent weeks and hope to be positive role models.

“Look, let’s talk, find out what do you need,” Britt said. “We know the resources, so we can help them right away.”

“That’s all you need is a little hope, you know, to feel like you have some value,” Marionneaux said. “That goes a long way.”

Following Britt’s approach, one way to break the cycle of juvenile crime is to reach in and pull them out.

“Let’s get them now, because it’s going to constantly continue to recycle itself, get worse, get worse,” he said. “My whole thing is I’m going out there to get them.”

He said he thinks it’s possible to work with police on this.

“It’s like, let’s control together, not just you control,” Britt said. “We’ve got to do it together, because that’s the only way we’re going to be able to bridge the gap between police and the community. Right now it’s broken, but someone has to be the glue to mend it back together.”

Britt and Marionneaux said funding is a major barrier, and it will take government bodies putting money toward their programs to make real change. Donations can be made to the Boys and Girls Club ATTN Black Men Coalition of Dane County and to the Inspire Barber College at this website.