As an IT professional, I work with a lot of data. In our role partnering with Wisconsin’s Department of Children and Families, CGI intersects with data from thousands of young people who have entered the youth justice system. For some who work in data, it can become easy to forget that behind each of these numbers isn’t a statistic, it’s a person, each with their own unique set of circumstances.
This notion is what makes me so passionate about my job: a constant reminder that through a better use of technology, we can bring greater equity to those we serve.
A closer look at inequity in the youth justice system
The reality in Wisconsin is that there is inequity among our youth. Youth in one part of the state may be treated differently than youth who live just a few miles away (for the same offences): these counties are in unique regions of the state with various youth demographics, cultural considerations and urban versus rural population centers.
The bottom line, there’s a very real situation of disparity. When the population racial statistics breakdown at 60.01 % White, 18.5 % Latino or Hispanic, 12.5% Black, 5.9% Asian American, 2.2 % multi-racial, 0.7% American Indian/Alaska Native in the latest US Census count but arrests and youth justice referrals for people of color make up over 56% of those arrested we have a problem. Think about those numbers for a second – if 60% of the population is white, why are we arresting more people of color?
Of the 16,000 youth justice referrals in the past year, four out of five have had some contact with the Wisconsin Child Protective Services prior to their first referral. Looked at separately, data points around race, arrests and protective services give us an incomplete picture. Using the data in an integrated manner allows states to follow the facts that paint a bigger picture, and can lead to better decision making and greater service offerings for the youth.
Creating a better system of accountability
In the past few years, an effort by the State of Wisconsin to deliver more direct services for youth has resulted in more referrals being closed and counseled prior to any formal petitions in the court system. This has happened, in part, because of CGI’s ongoing partnership with the state’s Department of Children and Families.
The solution built with CGI and the state includes the ability to document case outcomes (closed and counseled, case closure - diversion services) more easily. Deferred prosecution agreements keep the youth out of the court formal process by giving the youth a chance to be successful. Formal petitions are also tracked and documented in the system, which helps to provide details on specific offenses in which youth have engaged.
The net effect of this level of visibility and tracking includes the ability to monitor if youth are being treated equitably across all 72 counties.
At the end of the day, it’s about helping people
When youth perceive themselves being treated fairly, they are more likely to internalize the lessons of accountability. And while every municipality’s use of data is different: with varying goals for data transparency or outcomes from greater data insight – the common thread in the utilization of this data solution is it’s impact on the lives of individuals, families and communities.
Having the privilege of working on a project that has such a profound impact on people continues to be a career highlight because together, we’re working to bring equity and hope to this and future generations.