UPDATE: Ozanne faces questions about diversion program for child abusers
MADISON (WKOW) -- Dane County District Attorney and Wisconsin Attorney General Candidate Ismael Ozanne (D) is trying to reduce the number of criminal convictions for minority parents arrested for child abuse.
Ozanne says minority parents are responsible for more than half of the child abuse cases that come into his office, even though minorities as a whole represent less than 15 percent of the overall population in Dane County.
"I think that there's informational studies out now that show there's a historical cultural component," said Ozanne, who says the cultural values of many minority groups allow for more corporal punishment, which can sometimes escalate to greater physical harm.
Ozanne has set up a deferred prosecution program where child abuse offenders who meet certain conditions can avoid a conviction. Instead of going to jail, they go through parenting classes so they can learn better disciplinary techniques.
While its open to people of all races, Ozanne says it will help minorities more, simply because they have a higher rate of offending. Of the 20 people currently in the program, 11 are minorities.
"This is about protecting children. This isn't about making some special program for any one group. It is about protecting children and all children, all families are eligible if they're appropriate," said Ozanne.
But fellow AG Candidate and District Attorney Brad Schimel (R-Waukesha County) says child abuse should never be excused.
Schimel says Ozanne's deferred prosecution program presents a very slippery slope.
"Wisconsin law already recognizes that parents have a right to use reasonable parental discipline in raising their children. But, we shouldn't be bending over backward to excuse conduct that goes further than reasonable parental discipline," said Schimel, who says he only believes in using deferred prosecution arrangements for non-violent, first-time offenders.
But Ozanne says simply putting those people in jail, without giving them the tools they need to be better parents, isn't helping anyone.
"We're looking to address the incident, which has brought the offender into the criminal justice system and we're looking to change behavior to protect that child or those children for the future," said Ozanne.
Schimel says the counseling and treatment of parents can still be offered as a condition of probation, without taking away the threat of a conviction.
The two other Democratic Attorney General candidates also expressed caution over the idea.
Jefferson County District Attorney Susan Happ put out a statement which read: "Deferred prosecution agreements and alternatives to incarceration programs can be of tremendous benefit to offenders and to our communities, but they should be carefully applied. When you are talking about violent offenses, public protection is paramount. This is especially true when you are talking about offenders who have committed an act of violence against a helpless child. It is up to those of us in law enforcement to ensure that all of our children are safe and secure. I understand that there may be cultural differences that may contribute to these offenses, but we cannot condone child abuse under any circumstance."
Rep. Jon Richards (D-Milwaukee) simply wrote: "When in comes to child abuse, protecting kids should be the one and only priority."
MADISON (WKOW) -- Dane County District Attorney and Wisconsin Attorney General Candidate Ismael Ozanne is trying to reduce the number of criminal convictions for minority parents arrested for child abuse.
To accomplish that, Ozanne set up a deferred prosecution program for parents whose cultural values led them to use "excessive discipline techniques." The program allows such parents to avoid jail time by enrolling in an 18 week comprehensive parenting program that teaches alternative discipline.
In a five-page report Ozanne put out last fall, he cites statistics from a one-year span in Dane County that shows 54 percent of the 174 child abuse cases referred to his office involved minority offenders, even though minorities only make up 15 percent the county's population.
"Both minority parents and their children are likely to receive short and long term benefits from a deferred prosecution model which provides timely intervention in addressing alternative discipline approaches," writes Ozanne.
Ozanne offers the following hypothesis for the increase in child abuse among minorities developed by Tim Wise, author of the book White Like Me.
"A paddle, after all, or the flat one one's hand will sting, it may even bruise, but it will not end one's life the way a bullet will. And for black parents, there is every reason to think that unless their children learn self control at an early age, even if it has to be taught by way of a mechanism they'd rather not see dispensed, the risk of future catastrophe involving those same children will only grow," writes Wise.
Ozanne writes the program will be evaluated for effectiveness based on child abuse recidivism rates and other measures.
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