Standing in contrast to the traditional carceral system, a community justice center is a more restorative alternative. These centers aim to find peace between offenders, and send fewer people to jail, and connect individuals with resources for addressing mental health, substance abuse, and housing issues.
Plans for a local community justice center have been in the works since late last year. The first stages are being led by the Center for Court Innovation, a New York-based nonprofit that tests justice system reforms.
Today, the Dane County Criminal Justice Council met to consider community feedback on that project.
Dave Lucas is a clinical advisor at the Center for Court Innovation, or CCI. He says as CCI gathered community feedback, they heard often that the individuals providing a service matter just as much as the service itself.
“It’s not like the old saying, ‘if you build it they will come,’ it’s more like who builds this will determine who uses it and who benefits from it,” says Lucas.
Lucas also says Dane County residents and organizations that provided feedback stressed the importance of making the center and its services accessible in multiple languages and in rural areas, and addressing racial disparities in the justice system.
The Center for Court Innovation first started working with Dane County six years ago, helping to create a Community Restorative Court. That’s an alternative to the traditional criminal justice system for 17 to 25 year olds charged with minor crimes.
The Capital Times reports that Dane County is paying CCI a budget of $100,000 to lay the groundwork for the project.
But, many details about the community justice center are still up in the air –including which cases will be handled by the center and what additional services will be provided. Also undecided is whether the center’s services will be in one building, or hosted by various community organizations.
CCI recommended that these details should be handled by a small planning team and a large community advisory board, which would make decisions for the center.
Caitlin Flood is a senior program manager at CCI. She says there isn’t a cost estimate for the center yet, because the costs will depend on the details of the center’s programs, and how much support comes in from other community organizations.
Flood also mentioned that a community justice center would save the county money by reducing time spent in court and in jail. But they wouldn’t know how much money was saved until the center is in operation for a year or two.
CCI is scheduled to give a final report with their recommendations to the Dane County Board on September 9th.
PHOTO: Brian Standing / WORT news