In February 2015, the Dane County Board of Supervisors got “sticker shock” at the price of a new jail. Members were also faced with opposition to the idea of spending money on a new jail, particularly since African-Americans make up a considerably larger share of the inmate population than their numbers in the general population.
“When we build them, we tend to fill them,” said Linda Ketchum, executive director of the Madison Area Urban Ministry, in an article by Joe Tarr in Isthmus.
Sheriff David Mahoney also pointed out the long-standing problem of housing people with mental illness in the jail. He told reporter Tarr, “We’ve always housed those individuals in disciplinary housing units–units that are meant to change behavior, not treat mental illness.”
Funding for programs that would provide mental health treatment instead of jail time has not kept up with population growth and need, according to David Delap, head of a diversion program run by the Journey Mental Health Center.
Mahoney concurs. “I haven’t heard of anyone stepping up to [provide services]. Since the ’70s, it’s been just the opposite.”
As a response to these problems, the Board appointed three task groups to come up with recommendations concerning problems with the criminal justice system in Dane County, with special attention to racial inequities and mental health. The groups moved quickly and the Board issued a final report in September 2015. Click here for the report.
Each group was to come up with 10 recommendations, five of which would require no new cost. Here are the recommendations concerning “mental health, solitary confinement, and incarceration.”
- Remodel the current jail to reflect a more humane and modern facility.
- Develop culturally relevant community-based crisis, assessment and resource center.
- Increase the number and reach of mobile crisis response staff/teams.
- Develop more culturally relevant and family centered outreach and engagement.
- Add culturally relevant staff to work in collaboration with current mental health, substance abuse, or developmental disability services and community resources.
- Create and sustain a culturally diverse workforce.
- Reduce the length of time in solitary confinement and administrative segregation.
- Convene a leadership team of mental health providers, advocates and others to explore financing issues. (County Executive should lead.)
- Support the development of a plan to deliver additional training and resources for judicial officials, attorneys, and others involved in the court process, and
- Convene a workgroup under the auspices of the Criminal Justice Council to identify and sustain to improve processes and expedite cases for inmates with significant mental health, substance abuse, and developmental issues as may be appropriate.
In April, the League of Women Voters of Dane County will host a forum to consider progress on these recommendations and other issues concerning mental health services in Dane County. Please feel free to comment on progress as you have seen it.
UPDATE: Click here for February 25 update on plans for jail.
UPDATE: Click here for recent news about plans to update the jail.
UPDATE: Click here for a statement from Board Chair Sharon Corrigan about the jail. She writes that the Board added money for a “jail diversion program to emphasize community services.”