A Rock County official praised a move by Wisconsin’s new Democratic governor to continue a criminal justice reform effort his Republican predecessor started.
Gov. Tony Evers signed an executive order Thursday to re-create the state Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, according to a news release.
Rock County District Attorney David O’Leary, who continues to serve on the panel, said the move is significant.
O’Leary said members had been waiting for confirmation that Evers would continue the effort Gov. Scott Walker started in 2012.
The council’s goals are to improve the criminal justice system by analyzing data to reduce recidivism and increasing public safety, O’Leary said.
“For far too long, the criminal justice system was the dumping ground for failed public policy where individuals with mental illness and drug/alcohol addiction issues would end up but without the treatment options to address (the root causes of their behavior),” O’Leary said in an email.
Rock and many other counties have their own criminal justice coordinating councils, bringing together law enforcement, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges and corrections officials to seek improvements.
For example, Rock County is about to embark on an effort to change the way bail is imposed when someone is charged with a crime. The new system is devised to reduce the role that racial bias might play in the process and to address the inequity of poor people having to sit in jail because they can’t make bail while those with means can go free pending trial.
“This council will continue to help Wisconsin move toward sound, evidence-based practices that focus our resources on programs that work, while moving away from solely punitive programs that have been shown to do little to rehabilitate offenders or make our communities safer,” Evers said in a news release.
Attorney General Josh Kaul and Department of Corrections Secretary-designee Kevin Carr are co-chairmen of the council.
Criminal justice reform has been one of the few areas nationwide where Democrats and Republicans have been able to see eye to eye in recent years, although some now wonder if that consensus is falling apart.
The federal First Step Act, signed by President Donald Trump in December, is seen as an effort to correct missteps of the past that led to huge increases in prison populations with minorities, especially African Americans, bearing the brunt of the system’s excesses.