Jason Witt-Disproportionate Minority Contact Action Network Champion for Change
Rock County, Wisconsin Human Services Department
“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” So says Jason Witt, a true believer in data-driven decision making as a way of improving outcomes for young people involved with the juvenile justice system.
By all measures, Jason Witt’s commitment has led to real results in DMC reduction in Rock County, a mixed urban and rural county of 160,000 residents in south central Wisconsin. Witt pushed for a strength-based assessment instrument that resulted in completed assessments for 80% of youth on supervision. Previously none had been done.
“Jason has been an advocate for DMC reduction for almost a decade. He is a skilled communicator who makes the case in accessible and clear terms for audiences who might not otherwise respond,” says Mark Soler, Executive Director, Center for Children’s Law and Policy. “The impressive numbers in Rock County are a testament to Jason’s hard work and smart advocacy.”
Work in Rock County to expand the number and quality of detention alternatives led to a 27% drop in the number of youth of color admitted to secure detention for probation violations. The increased use of detention alternatives, along with other DMC-focused initiatives, has helped lower the number of youth who are locked up from an average of 20 youth a day in 2002 to an average of 14 per day in 2009.
As Deputy Director of the Rock County Human Services Department, Witt was site leader for the DMC Action Network. He was responsible for big-picture strategizing regarding DMC reduction efforts in Rock County and initiated an accountability process called RockStat that focuses on using timely information and relentless followup to drive performance toward achievable goals.
Witt also took this information directly to system stakeholders and policy makers. His advocacy for strengthbased assessment and case plan implementation, as well as a system of graduated sanctions and a new secure detention intake policy is entrenching the practices that will sustain gains in DMC reduction and result in lasting change. He also tirelessly advocated for reallocating resources from the secure detention center to communitybased programming to serve youth in their own neighborhoods.
Wisconsin DMC Coordinator Lindsey Draper said, “Jason’s leadership and commitment played a major role in developing the credibility and “buy-in” that led local stakeholders to support the reform efforts and helped spread the idea that such projects could be replicated.”
Witt recently moved to a new position as Director of the La Crosse County Human Services Department in La Crosse, Wisconsin where he will certainly remain a powerful advocate for well-being of young people.