- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 2, 2015

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Several agencies in Dane County are teaming up on a pilot program aimed at balancing racial inequities among young offenders in the criminal justice system.

The program, which will last more than three months, involves the use of restorative justice programs for children and teens who commit minor infractions. Young people ages 12 to 16 who receive tickets for city of Madison municipal ordinance violations will be diverted into a restorative court program. If they successfully complete the program, the citation will not be formally issued and will not be entered as an arrest.

“Disparities in the criminal justice system are a huge challenge in our community,” Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said. “One of the big challenges that young people face is when young people get a municipal fine and it starts that criminal record. This can make moving forward very difficult.”

Madison police issue about 70 citations per month to people between the ages of 12 and 16, and about 75 percent of those people are minorities, the Wisconsin State Journal (https://bit.ly/1iiytHs ) reported.

The pilot program is a “no-can-miss” proposition, “because something will be infinitely better than what we’re currently doing,” said Madison Police Chief Mike Koval.



Municipal citations usually stem from offenses such as disorderly conduct and property damage, he said.

The current way of doing things is problematic because there’s nothing in place to help divert young people off of the wrong track, so they keep making bad judgments and it compounds, Koval said.

“It’s crazy that we literally have to see kids’ behavior escalate to that of criminal culpability or juvenile delinquency before we can do an intervention with some formalized services being provided,” he said. “This (pilot program) does things completely different. It’s a new paradigm in getting that kid services prior to heading down that path towards delinquency.”

He hopes positive engagement with kids early on will pare back racial disparities in adult arrests later on.

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Information from: Wisconsin State Journal, https://www.madison.com/wsj

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