Dane County Joins the Safety and Justice Challenge to Create a Fairer, More Effective Local Justice System and Model Reforms for the Nation

February 01, 2017
Colleen Clark-Bernhardt Equity and Criminal Justice Council Coordinator 608.266.3022
County Board

Dane County is one of 20 Counties and Cities to Receive Grants to

Design, Test Innovative Criminal Justice Reforms


The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation today announced that Dane County is one of 20 additional jurisdictions joining the Safety and Justice Challenge, a national $100 million initiative to reduce over-incarceration by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails.  Dane County and the other jurisdictions will design and test innovative local justice reforms designed to safely drive down jail usage and reduce racial and ethnic disparities in their local justice systems.


Through the Challenge’s Innovation Fund, Dane County will receive support and expert technical assistance in designing and implementing local reforms.  Dane County’s innovation will focus on training of local peacemakers and technical advances to support expansion of the Community Restorative Court from the pilot project stage to a countywide initiative, with the goal of reducing disparities in the criminal justice system.


“The Community Restorative Court was developed through the work of the Racial Disparities Subcommittee of the Criminal Justice Council and has been supported by key community partners, including the UW Law School, the Madison Police Department, and community members who volunteer their time to serve as peacemakers,” said County Board Supervisor Shelia Stubbs, whose south Madison district is the site of the CRC pilot program.  “This Innovation Grant from a national partner will allow the county to expand this critical restorative justice initiative throughout Dane County and give us even greater access to national expertise.”


Dane County was chosen following a highly competitive selection process that drew applications from across the country.


“Local jurisdictions are leading the way on justice reform,” said MacArthur President Julia Stasch.  “Demand for reform at the local level is considerable and growing, as evidenced by the number, diversity, and creativity of the applications we received.  This momentum is encouraging; particularly as the federal justice reform landscape evolves and shifts.”


“Dane County is leading the way to lower recidivism,” said Dane County Executive Joe Parisi. “Addressing the root of the problem to help keep people from reoffending is better for public safety and is a better deal for taxpayers. It is also the right thing to do.”


Dane County and other Innovation Fund jurisdictions will receive short-term support of $50,000 each, are eligible for future funding opportunities, and have access to the resources, peer learning opportunities, and expertise of the Safety and Justice Challenge Network.  The Urban Institute, which is managing the Innovation Fund in partnership with the Foundation, will provide expert technical assistance to the jurisdictions as they implement their plans.  Key learnings and resources emerging from the Innovation Fund will be shared with and beyond the justice reform field.


“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.  “When we empower victims and the community in the process the outcomes can be better for all.  We are committed to continuing our restorative justice work with victims and our community partners to help ensure public safety. It is a great honor to receive this award from the MacArthur Foundation to help further this innovative program."


As in many jurisdictions nationwide, there is extensive data in Dane County documenting the racial inequities in the criminal justice system.  The Community Restorative Court, with its mission “Repair Harm, Reduce Risk, and Rebuild the Community” uses restorative justice principles to divert youth ages 17-25 from the traditional criminal justice system. The program reduces recidivism and builds communities using a restorative justice model. Participation in the program provides a young person who has committed a low-level offense the opportunity to work with community members to ensure accountability, determine restitution, and repair the harm done.


Criminal Justice Council member Madison Police Chief Michael Koval stated, “There must be a paradigm shift in the way our nation views incarceration.  Brick and mortar isolation is a poor default remedy and has not proven helpful in getting at root problems of addiction and mental illness, nor does jailing prove effective at repairing the harm(s), reducing recidivism, or providing a constructive pathway to re-entry.  This grant represents an opportunity for Dane County to truly examine the ways and means we can improve upon traditional outcomes.”


The Innovation Fund jurisdictions expand the Challenge’s reach into new states and deepen its work across the country.  They include:


  • Adams County, CO

  • Allegheny County, PA

  • City of Atlanta, GA

  • Broward County, FL

  • Buncombe County, NC

  • Campbell county, TN

  • Clark County, NV

  • Dane County, WI

  • State of Delaware

  • Deschutes County, OR

  • Durham County, NC

  • East Baton Rouge Parish, LA

  • Lake County, IL

  • Minnehaha County, SD

  • Missoula County MT

  • Polk County, IA

  • City and County of San Francisco, CA

  • Santa Clara County, CA

  • Summit County, OH

  • Yakima County, WA



“This is tremendous news that puts Dane County on the national stage in terms of effective criminal justice reform,” said County Board Chair Sharon Corrigan of Middleton. “We have heard loud and clear from the Dane County community about the inequities in the criminal justice system. This grant from the MacArthur Foundation will help us move forward with effective and innovative change.”


Information about the selected jurisdictions, as well as new, research, and events related to the Safety and Justice Challenge, will be published on www.SafetyandJusticeChallenge.org.



About the MacArthur Foundation

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation supports creative people, effective institutions, and influential networks building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world.  MacArthur is placing a few big bets that truly significant progress is possible on some of the world’s most pressing social challenges, including over-incarceration, global climate change, nuclear risk, and significantly increasing financial capital for the social sector.  In addition to the MacArthur Fellows Program, the Foundation continues its historic commitments to the role of journalism in a responsible and responsive democracy, as well as the strength and vitality of our headquarters city, Chicago.  More information about the Foundation’s criminal justice reform work can be found at www.macfound.org/criminaljustice.  


About the Urban Institute

The nonprofit Urban Institute is dedicated to elevating the debate on social and economic policy.  For nearly five decades, Urban scholars have conducted research and offered evidence-based solutions that improve lives and strengthen communities across a rapidly urbanizing world.  Their objective research helps expand opportunities for all, reduce hardship among the most vulnerable, and strengthen the effectiveness of the public sector.


About the Dane County Criminal Justice Council

The Dane County Criminal Justice Council is a 12-member body dedicated to data-driven decision making, racial equity, and innovative reform in the pursuit of public safety and community justice. https://dane.legistar.com/DepartmentDetail.aspx?ID=26382&GUID=D8319024-DDD3-4C73-AB42-BBFE9E36BB67&Search