Community Solutions: Breaking Down Barriers for Success


Dane County Executive Joe Parisi’ s comprehensive plan for reducing poverty and better ensuring opportunity and success for all:

  • Under a new partnership between Dane County, the Madison Metropolitan School District, and the local Cooperative Educational Service Agency (CESA), fund a pilot program to help kids afford to take driver’s education. Access to transportation is integral to obtaining employment. 
  • Provide $20,000 in eliminate wait lists for a successful program coordinated by the YWCA that helps those who have lost their driver’s license, regain their licenses.  The YWCA’s “Driver’s License Recovery Program helps those eligible to have their licenses re-instated, navigate an otherwise complicated process to regain the ability to legally drive - - and get to work.
  • Request county policymakers modifying the County Ordinance violation fine for having less than an ounce of marijuana.  Too often the current fine of $500-$1,000 (not including court fees) goes unpaid, creating a criminal record for individuals who are unable to pay the fine due to poverty.  This begins an unnecessary spiral into the criminal justice system.  It is also out of line with the fine for equally or more serious offenses such as disorderly conduct where the forfeiture amount is higher.

People re-entering society after conviction and incarceration face a unique set of barriers that make it extremely difficult to achieve success outside of the prison walls. Over ¾ of these inmates will be returning to the communities from which they originated  Challenges such as lack of affordable housing, mental health and other support services, and employment make it difficult,  if not impossible, for many of these individuals to successfully reintegrate back into the community and avoid recidivism.  In addition, addressing challenges early on is an effective strategy in preventing people from entering the criminal justice system in the first place.  To address these barriers, County Executive Parisi commits to:

  • Dedicate $500,000 from the Dane County budget for re-entry housing.  Partner with a provider to operate housing the county would acquire for sole purposes of transitional housing for those who have served their sentences and are trying to successful integrate back into the community.
  • Create a new Dane County re-entry work group consisting of staff from the Department of Human Services and the Sheriff’s Office to coordinate services for those looking to leave jail and re-enter the workforce and locate stable housing.  The County Executive’s Office will convene the first meeting of this group in March with the goal of streamlining services to reduce recidivism.
  • Request Dane County communities and employers adopt “Ban the Box” similar to Dane County and the City of Madison, in order to prevent employers from discriminating solely based on acts that occurred many years previously.
  • Request Dane County law enforcement agencies voluntarily track traffic stop data contacts to monitor for disproportionate policing.
  • Direct the Director of Dane County Human Services to report back a plan to assess all Juvenile Delinquency referrals for dyslexia by September 1, 2015.  Dyslexia is a highly underreported problem that leads to poor educational outcomes, disruptive behaviors and oftentimes entrance into the criminal justice system. An estimated 50% of all prison inmates are dyslexic.
  • Direct the Director of Dane County Human Services to conduct a comprehensive review and make recommendations to the County Executive prior to September 1st on how the County can most effectively enhance mental health services.  This review will include assessing the feasibility of expanding the “School Mental Health Crisis Intervention Teams” Parisi created in 2014 Dane County budget

Gainful employment is the most effective vehicle out of poverty and towards upward mobility.  All efforts to achieve prosperity for all must begin with access to a family sustaining job.  The County Executive’s efforts in this area will be to:

  • Create a new partnership with Orchard Ridge Church, Commonwealth Development and Dane County government to help get 100 people into transitional jobs.  Working through Dane County’s popular Joining Forces for Families sites on the southwest side, this effort will provide job training and temporary employment to those seeking job experience. 
  • Bring the newly established BIG STEP Program created by County Executive Parisi in his 2014 budget and modeled off of the successful program in Milwaukee to full scale.  Supported by public, private, and philanthropic investments, BIG STEP’s mission is to assist economically disadvantaged minorities, women, and youth develop the skills needed to participate meaningfully in the workforce and share in the area economy while ensuring that member companies have the skilled workers needed to prosper and grow in a competitive global economy.

Dane County can lead by example in efforts to reduce inequities and break down barriers to employment.  In 2015, Dane County will take undergo an extensive internal analysis to identify areas of needed improvement around hiring practices, contracting and service provision.  County Executive Parisi will:

  • Request the recently created “Dane County Racial Equity and Social Justice” group to evaluate current county hiring processes, rules, and regulations that may represent barriers to diversifying the county workforce and make recommendations for changes
  • Identify positions in County government where apprenticeship opportunities exist to help workers gain skills and certifications helpful to them in securing gainful employment.  This could include training to receive commercial driver’s licenses and commits continued county support for the County Executive’s “Project Big Step” effort linking minority workers with opportunities to work in the skilled trades.
  • Request Dane County Dane County’s 26 cities and villages review municipal ordinances and modify fines and forfeitures as needed for non-violent offenses. Currently, the City of Fitchburg charges $1,000 for a simple marijuana possession ticket with over $300.00 in court fees.  Left unpaid by families struggling with poverty, these fines can escalate and result in further barriers to maintaining gainful employment - - including keeping or earning a driver’s license.