Madison has made national news lately for its disturbing racial disparity numbers, and Dane County Board Supervisor Shelia Stubbs and the Dane County Board have decided that it's time to take action. Late last week, Stubbs announced a series of budget amendments and proposals to directly address racial disparities in Dane County’s criminal justice system. The amendments complement a number of initiatives proposed by Dane County Executive Joe Parisi.
“Knowing that I could be a disparity myself, I was not surprised to get back some of the results that we did from this 'Race To Equity' report, but I think what it did was bring awareness to others who had no idea that Madison had such disparities,” Stubbs tells The Madison Times in an interview at Jade Mountain Cafe on Madison's near east side.
The Dane County Executive and Stubbs are putting forward concrete proposals to address this troubling reality that Madison has become a tale of two cities.“This is our great embarrassment,” says Stubbs, who represents a majority minority district on Madison's south side. “ “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. I think with that report being there that it was a pressing need to address these disparities as quickly as we could.”
Recently, 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
“I think that once we saw the staggering numbers, I knew that we were in trouble,” Stubbs says.
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.
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
“We all agreed that these were the right steps to take,” says Stubbs, the sole black member of the Dane County Board. “Specialized courts have become more familiar and in order to address a certain population of people you have to do something a little creative — so this is our creativity piece. Neighborhood courts will work if the neighborhood buys in.”
The community court idea would be a pilot that would focus on one troubled area and, if successful, would spread to other areas of the city. “We have to change our philosophy here in Dane County,” Stubbs says. “What we've been doing for so long has not been working and I think people have come to the reality with the Race To Equity report. I think we've come to that tipping point where we can keep doing what we've been doing and tip on over, or we can begin to turn the dial the other way and make the scale more equal and more level.
“I am excited about many of the initiatives. I am happy about us funding an apprenticeship program to train low-income and disadvantaged people for jobs in the building trades,” Stubbs adds. “People can make good money in the building trades, but apprenticeship programs have not historically been available to people of color.”
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,” Parisi said. “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.
“It's time to address a pressing issues that is before us,” Stubbs says. “We can no longer pretend like it doesn't exist. I think our city does a good job of covering up our issues, but I think the 'Race to Equity' report has exposed us, but I want people to know that the Dane County Board of Supervisors and the Dane County Executive have recognized that this is an issue and we have put initiatives there that will address it.
“People are not comfortable about talking about racial disparities. How many people want to know that they've done something wrong? But we need to have these conversations,” Stubbs continues. “We need to figure this out. It's an ongoing process of education and advocacy. As the only African American on the board, it's an issue that I take very personally. It's something that we definitely can do. We're all in this together.”