MILWAUKEE -- Milwaukee County's chief judge was in the hot seat Monday, June 27th during a special meeting of the Milwaukee Common Council's Public Safety meeting -- the fifth such meeting to discuss crime in Milwaukee.
As you might imagine, questions were centered around whether county judges are doing enough to keep dangerous people off the street.
Aldermen took turns asking questions for nearly three hours. Among those -- why isn't there real-time GPS monitoring for people on county supervision, and how does someone awaiting trial for a carjacking post bail with just his signature?
"Come and see us is my message," Maxine White said.
Milwaukee County's chief judge extended the invitation to anyone curious about the county's court system.
"There is a huge concern about just what`s happening with our young people, that they`re not being held accountable for their criminal activity," Alderman Bob Donovan said.
Aldermen criticized that system Monday -- using 17-year-old Damonta Goode as an example.
Goode was arrested in January for his alleged role in an armed carjacking. In May, he was able to post a signature bond.
On June 12, Goode was one of three teenagers arrested after a police chase led to a crash at 36th and Villard. Police say Goode was riding in a stolen pickup truck with two guns inside.
White declined to comment on individual, ongoing cases, but explained what judges should consider when setting bail.
"Who the person is. Have they been in the system before? Are there any risk factors that we`ve been taught to look for? So -- what`s a good amount to set for a person his age that`s likely to be reasonable," White said.
As for concerns about GPS monitoring, White said there's a gap.
"The GPS monitoring device is a device that`s monitored by at-work employees during the workday. I would say 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. at night," White said.
White said she's willing to work with other officials to help close those gaps and also take a deeper dive into recent bail decisions.
"I would have to look to see if there`s a belief that there`s low bail versus high bail. We need to take a look at the data and see," White said.
White said, while they do so in serious cases, judges are hesitant to send juvenile offenders to Lincoln Hills in Irma. The state-run facility is currently the subject of an investigation into allegations of abuse and neglect. On top of that, White said judges worry about young offenders not getting the programming that could help them stay out of trouble. She said nearly two-thirds of Milwaukee juveniles come back and re-offend.
"Within three years of the release of those kids back to this county, they will (re-offend) so they have a 63% failure rate," White said, "When I visited that place, we don’t have the Wauwatosa School District teaching kids up there, we don’t have mental health issues being treated up there. If you come back to Milwaukee with one credit of high school, what do we expect we’ve created?"
White noted that the 120-bed juvenile detention center has reached capacity numerous times already this year. Last week, Sheriff Clarke recommended putting some serious offenders in the adult House of Correction, where there are currently five unused dorms totaling 280 vacant beds.
White said it's especially important that juveniles receive an education and, when needed, mental health treatment to make them less likely to re-offend as adults.
At one point in the meeting, Alderman Mark Borkowski challenged White, saying the testimony was making him wonder if some judges feel as if they're beyond criticism.
"Judge, you can’t tell me that things are working ‘cause they’re not," Borkowski said, "I’m not going to accept that. We all have to do better."
White responded by saying the handling of such cases is not as simple as some officials may believe. She noted that judges cannot consider previous arrests if charges were never filed against the offender in that case.
"If we started acting as if it was a 'Judge Judy' show and all you had to do was show up and give us a few things and came out in a result, it’s a process," White said.
White did concede that more could be done to improve communication between the county offices and police.
"Maybe our systems aren’t joined well enough so we can’t see what everyone is doing," White said, "Maybe we can do better at that so that the cop on the street can see where Child A has been and whether they’re under supervision now and need to be corrected. It’s a difficult problem. It’s not easy. But it’s solvable if we work together."
MPD spokesman Sgt. Tim Gauerke said police are still working with county juvenile court officials "to improve information sharing and allow MPD to gain access to GPS data."
The next special meeting before the Public Safety Committee will involve representatives from the Wisconsin Department of Corrections. Monday's meeting was the fifth of seven scheduled sessions.