Nicholas McNamara

Dane County Circuit Judge Nicholas McNamara analyzed all Dane County criminal cases from 2012 to 2016 and found that 81 percent of all defendants are released on signature bond, meaning without cash bail. McNamara concluded that the national issue of holding defendants on “excessively high” cash bail for low-level misdemeanors is “probably not happening in Dane County.”

The community is invited to attend a June 3 presentation from Cherise Fanno Burdeen, CEO of Pretrial Justice Institute and State of Wisconsin Public Defender Kelli Thompson, on pretrial and bail reform both nationally and locally.

Both Fanno Burdeen and Thompson will be presenting at the Madison Central Library on Monday, June 3 beginning at 5:15 p.m. Also participating will be Dane County Clerk of Courts, Carlo Esqueda and Judge Nicolas McNamara.

Dane County has invested substantial resources in our pretrial process and is the first county in the country to study use of the pretrial risk assessment with Access to Justice Lab, at Harvard University.

“Significant reforms in bail and pretrial have been realized in many states across the country in recent years, and Wisconsin is joining that national conversation,” said Esqueda. “Here in Dane County, we have made significant enhancements to pretrial services, and we are grateful for the opportunity to engage with the community about what comes next.​ “

Since 2006, Fanno Burdeen has developed innovative strategies to raise awareness of pretrial justice issues, amassed a broad constituency of criminal experience with strategic planning, initiative management, and change efforts across the criminal justice system.

"I am excited to come to Dane County to share about what's happening in bail reform across the country. This is not just about money bond - it's about the entire "front end" of the system and the choices we make in the name of public safety,” said Fanno Burdeen. “There are real opportunities to do things differently and get outcomes we can all be proud of."

Thompson was appointed State Public Defender in 2001, prior to this she served as Training Director, Legal Counsel, and Deputy State Public Defender in the State Public Defender’s Office. She also served on the State of Wisconsin legislative committee on bail and pretrial.

“Pretrial decisions are sometimes the most consequential decisions in any criminal case, influencing everything that happens after that,” said McNamara. “We should openly consider whether our practices and policies are beneficial or burdensome to our community. Because a wide variety of voices improves understanding, I invite residents throughout Dane County to be a part of this conversation, particularly those individuals and families who have been impacted by pretrial decisions.”

The 12-member Dane County Criminal Justice Council is a collaborative body created in Dane County ordinance to collaborate and improve public safety, racial equity and data driven decisions. For more information:

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