I am looking forward to the Law School’s 2009 Public Service Conference, which will address “The Future of Community Justice in Wisconsin.” Organized by our Assistant Dean for Public Service, Dan Idzikowski, the Conference will take place on Friday, February 20. Dan has supplied the following post to explain the significance of “community justice” and why it is such an important topic today, particularly for anyone interested in the fairness and effectiveness of the criminal justice system:
Community justice councils, or criminal justice coordinating councils, have been established in several communities across Wisconsin. These councils bring together key local decision-makers to address the coordination, cost, and effectiveness of the criminal justice system in their area. Milwaukee County, which has the State’s largest concentration of offenders and criminal justice resources, recently established its own Community Justice Council. Remarkably, this council has brought together leadership across the political spectrum to address crime and corrections in the Milwaukee area. The Marquette Law School Public Service conference is designed to support this collaboration and bring together criminal justice experts to lend their counsel to these efforts. For example, Jeremy Travis, the keynote speaker, is the President of the preeminent John Jay School of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York, the former director of the National Institute of Justice at the U.S. Justice Department, and the author of several books and studies on community corrections and reentry issues.
Why is community justice a critical public issue at this time? The past two decades have seen an explosion in Wisconsin’s prison and jail populations. Since 1990 over a dozen new state-operated correctional facilities were brought on line, and existing institutions were expanded. The cost of providing corrections services in Wisconsin grew from $178.4 million in 1990, to $583.4 million in 2000, to $1.2 billion in the current biennium.
The majority of this funding comes from general purpose revenue and the State now faces a $5 billion dollar structural deficit. While corrections expenditures are focused on state prison populations, municipalities also struggle with declining revenues and increasing jail populations, leading to difficult pretrial management issues. At the same time, resources available to provide community and treatment alternatives are scarce. Moreover, several recent studies, including a Governor’s task force report, have pointed out racial and ethnic disparities in both arrest and incarceration rates in Wisconsin.
There are no simple solutions to these issues. Indeed there is a healthy debate whether these issues pose any real problem or rather are an appropriate response to criminal activity. Yet, while some may read “community justice” as a code phrase for “soft on crime,” the reality is that community collaboration, coupled with proven management techniques, can drive down crime while conserving fiscal resources. This will take compromise, resource redirection, and considerable courage. “The Future of Community Justice in Wisconsin” is an event meant to spur future debate and change. Please join a host of local officials as we consider the many aspects of community justice in Wisconsin. For more information and to register, go to: http://law.marquette.edu/jw/psconference.