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Dane County justice system officials talk trauma, tips at Madison meeting on youth crime

November 6, 2018

Dane County officials spoke to the personal troubles that youth involved in crimes usually face, while Madison police shared tips on ways for people to prevent burglaries and car thefts at a community forum Monday.

A couple hundred Madison residents gathered at Blackhawk Church on the city’s Far West Side to hear Dane County justice system officials speak about recent crimes committed by juveniles, including a rash of vehicle thefts, and about the juvenile justice system.

A connecting theme across several speakers, including Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne and Circuit Court Judge Everett Mitchell, is that many of the juveniles being arrested have dealt with repeated instances of trauma, such as a lack of food, unstable housing, and physical and sexual abuse.

Mitchell, one of the Circuit Court’s four judges assigned to juvenile cases, said the system faces a lot of challenges, such as the lack of availability of placement options for offenders such as group homes and access to psychiatrists that would go a ways toward helping the children, adding that the kids most likely to commit crimes live in a metaphorical “flood zone.”

Law enforcement and judicial officials say a group of about 30 youth are responsible for a disproportionate number of car thefts. According to the Madison Police Department, there have been 344 stolen vehicles in the city through the end of October this year, which is up 1 percent from the same time period in 2017.

But the police department’s West District has seen 126 of those stolen vehicle cases — a 80 percent rise over the average number of stolen vehicles in the district between January and October, according to police.

West District Capt. Cory Nelson encouraged residents to not leave valuables, especially firearms, in their vehicles; keep garage doors closed; and leave exterior lights on to help prevent against car thefts and burglaries.

In a blog post last month, Police Chief Mike Koval chastised judges and others in the county’s juvenile justice system, saying “we see a plethora of reasons why it is failing.”

“When I wrote a blog four weeks ago, it wasn’t to throw anybody under the bus. It was to call attention to a system that needs a community response, a coordinated one, because we would be the first at the MPD to suggest that we’re not going to ticket and arrest (our way) out of this thing,” Koval said Monday.

Community members were also given the chance to weigh in on the issue.

Janean Dilworth-Bart, chairwoman of UW-Madison’s Department of Human Development and Family Studies, said while interviewing African-American men in the county, she’s heard from some that said they were never viewed as children but rather as juveniles.

“When we think of juveniles, we think of delinquents, but when we think of children we think of our own,” she said, asking those at the meeting to step out of their space to understand the trauma others have faced.

One woman said her husband was driving a vehicle in September when it was struck by a stolen vehicle with three teenagers inside at the intersection of South Gammon and Mineral Point roads. She said that she would love to hear the driver’s story and tell him how the crash has affected her and her husband.

Others shared their own stories of trauma that predated periods of incarceration.

Local community activist Caliph Muab-El said he began stealing cars at age 12, leading him to the prison system at 15.

“We’re having a conversation about 17 youth in this community that’s doing some things that kids do when they don’t have resources and accessibility to trauma-informed care, peer mentors, positive role models in their lives,” he said. “Sending a young mind into a prison cell is going to make them harder, more of a criminal.”

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