County Takes Racial Disparity Head On: Budget Items Take Aim at the “Great Embarrassment” of Racial Disparities

November 14, 2013
County Board Chair John Hendrick, 608.446.4842 County Supervisor Shelia Stubbs, 608.345.6961
County Board

Dane County Board Supervisor Shelia Stubbs today announced a series of budget amendments and proposals to address directly racial disparities in Dane County’s criminal justice system, highlighted by a study that surprised many earlier this year. The amendments complement a number of initiatives proposed by County Executive Joe Parisi.


The announcement comes just weeks after the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families (WCCF) released a report titled “Race to Equity” that found Dane County lacking in opportunities for African Americans. Among the findings in the report:


  • In Dane County, African Americans are 5.5 more likely to be unemployed than whites
  • Five percent of Dane County’s white children live in poverty; 75% of African American children do
  • Sixteen percent of Dane County’s white students don’t graduate on time; half of African American children don’t
  • African American juveniles are six times more likely to be arrested than white juveniles


The WCCF study mirrors previous studies that found African Americans make up six percent of the general Dane County population but 40 percent of its jail population, and that an African American resident was 97 times more likely to be incarcerated for a drug crime than a white resident. That is the widest disparity in the nation on that particular measurement.


“This is our great embarrassment,” said Stubbs. “Madison is a tale of two cities. There is a city of haves and a city of have-nots, and far too often those two cities are separated by race. We can’t just talk anymore. It’s time to take action and pull this community together.”


To address the disparity issue, Stubbs, District Attorney Ismael Ozanne and Judge William Foust co-chaired the Racial Disparities Working Group of the Criminal Justice Council that included several key County staff. On recommendations from that working group, the County Board’s Personnel and Finance Committee approved the following budget amendments Monday:


  • Create and fill a full-time Equity Coordinator/Program Analyst position in the County Board office to address racial disparities across County government and in the community, including staffing the Criminal Justice Council, its Racial Disparities Subcommittee and the Poverty Commission.
  • Specify that one County Board intern is available to assist in working against racial disparities
  • Make the Racial Disparities Working Group a permanent subcommittee of the Criminal Justice Council
  • Establish a pilot Community Court in a selected neighborhood that would use neighborhood resources to resolve potential misdemeanors before charging
  • Help fund an apprenticeship program to train low-income and disadvantaged persons for jobs in the building trades


“I thank Supervisor Stubbs, the County Executive and our partners in the criminal justice system for putting forward concrete proposals to address this troubling reality,” said County Board Chair John Hendrick. “The County Board is making this a priority. We need to reinforce the 'justice' in the criminal justice system.”


County Executive Joe Parisi also included a number of initiatives in his executive budget, including:


  • Expansion of early childhood education and parenting resources in Verona and Sun Prairie
  • Creation of a new Re-entry Coordinator position to assist jail inmates in preparing for success after release
  • Creation of the Dane County Youth Conservation Corps, which will put young people to work caring for and improving County Parks
  • Reorienting of the Drug Court to combine pre-conviction and post-conviction components to increase impact


“We’re all encouraged to see signs of economic recovery in Dane County, but we must ensure that as our community rebounds the opportunity exists for all of Dane County’s families to do the same,” said Dane County Executive Joe Parisi.  “The 2014 county budget contains a number of initiatives that create opportunity from birth to adulthood that will provide strength and stability for future generations.”


In all, the racial disparity provisions in Parisi’s budget proposal amount to $299,000 and the County Board amendments added $151,412 to the budget. The County Board will consider and vote on the full 2014 budget, including these amendments, on Monday, November 18.


The new staff position in the County Board office will be filled by transferring Colleen Clark (266-3022) from the Office of Equal Opportunity.

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