May 27, 2021
Criminal Justice Council Coordinator Colleen Clark-Bernhardt
County Board

Today at the monthly Dane County Criminal Justice Council (CJC) meeting, Dr. James Austin of JFA Institute presented on an analysis of Dane County jail race and ethnicity disparities, with a focus on the point of arrest.


In 2019 the Dane County Criminal Justice Council retained the JFA Institute to complete an analysis of the drivers of the jail population. The CJC subsequently requested an additional analysis which included a deeper dive into race.


"This unique collaborative approach to analyzing bias at the point of arrest, demonstrated ongoing research that indicates social economic status is often the driver for offenses, and subsequent police interaction.  However, analysis like this one, can point to strong alternatives and need root cause improvements--as well as bias in the arrest decision by race.  To my knowledge, it is the first time an analysis with community member participation, police, public health and researchers has been attempted," said Dr. Austin.


The key findings include:

1. By any measure, Dane County has a low jail incarceration rate as compared to national rates.

2. However, the Dane County black jail incarceration rate is more than twice the national black jail incarceration rate.

3. The Dane County black arrest rate is eleven times higher than the white rate and also twice as high as the U.S. black arrest rate.

4. About 10% of all blacks are arrested at least once a year in Dane County as opposed to 1% for all other racial and ethnic groups.

5. The higher arrest rate for blacks persists for all types of crimes (violent, property, drug, and other non-violent crimes).

6. There are no differences in the average number of charges made at arrest by race or ethnicity.

7. When based on the number of people arrested by race, the different percentages between blacks and other racial/ethnic groups drops significantly.

8. The percentage distribution of the current jail population is virtually identical to the arrest distribution which again shows the primary source of disparity occurs at the point of arrest.

9. However, blacks have a slightly longer length of stay (LOS), especially for violent charges, which contributes to their higher incarceration rate.

10. To reduce disparity in Dane’s county jail incarceration rate, attention should focus on the arrest decision where the vast majority of disparity occurs.

11. To that end, the Madison Police Department participated in a review of a random sample of 70 police encounters with members of the community and other policy stakeholders which found little evidence of obvious racial bias in the decision to arrest and/or to assign criminal charges.

12. Such studies with the community members included, should be conducted on a regular basis to ensure racial bias in criminal justice decision-making is reduced to its lowest levels.


County Board Chair Analiese Eicher, who also chairs the Criminal Justice Council said "this is exactly why we need strong alternatives, culturally sensitive wrap-around services, and a community justice center. To truly reform the criminal justice system, we need community, people with lived experience, education, health, and corporate leaders to band together to create a new model of success for all residents".


The CJC is a 13-member body of criminal justice leaders dedicated to improving justice, equity, and public safety in Dane County.


At the April and May meetings members of the council shared their vision for the future of Dane County’s Criminal Justice system.


"Although not surprising, the statistics in the JFA report are sobering," said newly appointed Sheriff Kalvin Barrett. "I look forward to working in partnership with under-represented communities, criminal justice leaders, and other community champions to create better outcomes and alternatives for our residents".


The JFA report can be found here.