Madison mayor’s juvenile crime proposal garners mixed response
Seeking to both define and offer a solution to the problem of what to do about a relatively small group of repeat juvenile offenders, Mayor Paul Soglin on Tuesday called on local leaders to join him in creating a mandatory, intensive program to provide the troubled youth with mental health care, case management, family support and other services.
The criminal actions of 30 to 60 youth “is the most critical issue facing the city right now,” Soglin said in an interview Wednesday. “The solution is very complicated. I didn’t see us getting anywhere.”
Soglin’s letter follows a blog post Tuesday morning from Madison Police Chief Mike Koval in which he sharply criticized the county’s juvenile justice system for not doing enough to keep repeat juvenile offenders off the streets.
Some local leaders, though, say they’ve long been working together on ways to reduce juvenile crime, and the longtime leader of the Dane County Human Services Department questions the mayor’s assertions and the need for a new and possibly duplicative program.
Soglin says in his letter to seven government or nonprofit leaders that it’s after juveniles are arrested that “the system failure sets in.”
The courts have two “unacceptable” options, he writes — sending them to the Lincoln Hills state juvenile prison for boys or releasing them back into the community.
What the community needs, he says, is “a service provider who first meets the legal requirement of obtaining the confidential information that begins with the identity of these juveniles. Then they need the legal authority to step into the judicial system and provide the courts with a mandatory program.”
“It’s going to have to be part of the existing juvenile criminal justice system,” he said in the interview.
But county Human Services Director Lynn Green said Soglin’s description of the courts’ options is not accurate, and that other options include in- and out-of-state residential treatment centers, foster care, group homes and supervision programs using ankle monitors, regular check-ins by the youth being monitored, and regular monitoring by the youths’ caseworkers at school and elsewhere.
“I agree that we need to all put our heads together and come up with a community solution,” Green said, but plenty of programs — including a new city violence prevention program — already exist for juvenile offenders. She said what’s needed is to build on and better coordinate the programs.
Another of the recipients of Soglin’s letter, Martha Stacker, administrator for the county’s Children, Youth & Families Division, said she agreed with Green’s assessment.
As an example of what Human Services is already doing, Green pointed to line items in County Executive Joe Parisi’s proposed 2019 budget, including $108,000 more for the county’s Community Restorative Courts and nearly three-quarters of a million dollars for other youth justice initiatives.
When pressed in the interview, Soglin offered some detail to what a new program might look like, including caseworkers and therapists who would meet with offenders daily and new, eight- to 10-person group homes in the city and county with an initial capital and operating cost of perhaps $5 million.
The mayor was reluctant to share initial thinking because he didn’t want to be prescriptive and costs would likely be borne by the county.
Also getting Soglin’s letter were Parisi, county juvenile court Judge Shelley Gaylord, supervisor of the county’s Juvenile Reception Center John Bauman, Madison School District Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham, and United Way of Dane County president and CEO Renee Moe.
“I am part of a group and other groups already working on these issues,” Gaylord said in an email. “I welcome the mayor’s and city’s continued involvement.”
Bauman expressed a similar sentiment, while Molly Meister, United Way director of media and community engagement, said two of the agency’s community solutions teams — on academic success and on law enforcement and leaders of color — touch on the issue of juvenile crime, but maybe there’s a “need for a more targeted approach to deal with this issue in particular.”
The agency’s teams are made up of volunteers with expertise in the issues they’re studying, Meister said. In an email to Soglin, Moe wrote, “We appreciate being asked and look forward to helping.”
In emails to Soglin and others on Wednesday, Cheatham said the work proposed by Soglin could extend from work the district had already started in response to crime near La Follette High School. The area saw a pair of shootings in September in which two district students were injured.
In a statement, she said she appreciated “Soglin’s call to action.”
“I am glad to see city, county, school district, police, the non-profit sector and the juvenile justice system stepping up to ensure that our youth, who need us, do not put themselves or others in harm’s way,” she said.
State Journal reporter Dean Mosiman contributed to this report.