In Dane County, the deferred prosecution program aims to provide progressive and fair law enforcement, along with prevention and diversion programs.
The Waunakee Rotary Club learned more about deferred prosecution at its March 4 meeting, when Rotarian Joel Lewis, a case manager in the program, spoke about how it works.
He and others in the case management team work under District Attorney Ismael Ozanne. For offenders to be eligible, they must have been referred by an attorney or law enforcement prior to being charged or sentenced. One of the goals is to keep eligible offenders out of the criminal justice system. Other criteria apply, as well. Once a person is in the system, the consequences are long lasting. The focus is on ensuring the victim has a voice and their needs are met, as well.
Each case manager has a specialty. Joel said their caseloads can be large. Prior to COVID, he managed 130 people, all of whom were very different and had different needs. Joel works in the domestic violence unit. Other units have case managers specializing in child abuse, sex offenders, restorative justice and opioid addiction. Another unit works with Spanish speakers.
Once an offender is in the program, the case managers do a full assessment of the person, learning about their family life, where they live and if they have a history of drug use or domestic violence. It starts with the police report. The case managers ask questions first about the offense.
“if someone says they didn’t do, we send them back to court,” he said.
The deferred prosecution can take anywhere from 6 months to 3 years to complete. The offenders may have to undergo counseling or provide restitution. But Joel said the intention is not be punitive. Counseling may for domestic violence, mental health, drug or alcohol abuse or parenting. Often, community service is part of the process and in some cases, restorative justice. The case managers also may require drug testing along the way.
Offenders may also be required to complete written assignments, or for those who have a difficult time writing, be asked to speak. Often, they are required to write letters of apology for the victim.
“I tell folks it’s about accountability for what they did,” Joel said.
Recently, several involved in race-based crimes have gone through deferred prosecution and have attended educational programs so they can understand the impact. The case managers may also require offenders to complete their high school equivalency. Those arrested for firearms violation may take a firearms safety course.
Upon completion of the deferred prosecution program, the charges are dismissed.
The program has an impact by holding individuals accountable for their behavior, Joel said. It also keeps them out of the system, provides counseling and frees up the criminal justice system while reducing its cost to taxpayers. Most importantly, it adds closure for the victim.
Joel is a former police officer with a master’s degree in social work. He has worked in a number of positions, including as a Huber Counselor in the Dane County Jail. He said may individuals are in the system not because they made a choice, but because of their circumstances.
“Working in the criminal justice system in a helping role, I think I found my passion,” he said. To watch the meeting in its entirety, visit:
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Other news:
-Rotarians can vote for the person of the year. Check your email for the nominations. A second round of voting will be held to narrow the  5 top vote-getters to one.
-Volunteers can help stuff goodie bags for the drive-through Easter Bunny visit. A sign-up sheet will go around.
-The board of directors has approved donations to three local quilting groups that provide blankets to newborns and others in need.
-Tri 4 Schools is working on ways to hold its annual kids’ triathlon, but WaunaFest has been cancelled, said President Tom Kennedy.
-Lisa Humenik and John Cullen are working on a membership survey to help with membership planning and the club’s vision.
Birthdays: March 15, Rich Murphy; March 17, Joel Lewis; March 17, Ellen Schaaf
Anniversaries: None.