At least 40 percent of the inmates at the Dane County jail have a mental illness, according to Sheriff Dave Mahoney. Several years ago, he described the abysmal conditions under which many of them were housed and pressed for action on a new jail that would include better options for those inmates.
The Dane County Board of Supervisors appointed three task groups to consider problems of racial equity and the prevalence of mental illness among inmates. The Board issued a report including 30 recommendations in September 2015 and appointed a task group to develop additional recommendations to divert people with mental illness from jail.
Recommendations in both reports include the idea of a crisis restoration center to which people with mental illness could be taken for assessment, short-term treatment, and referral to other community-based treatment. Crisis restoration centers have been successful in other communities and ultimately have saved taxpayers dollars.
Some recommendations in the reports have been implemented. However, there has been no movement towards establishing the center. In fact, the share of county funds directed to mental health services continues to decline in relation to population growth and the share allocated to the criminal justice budget.
The League of Women Voters of Dane County and NAMI-Dane County want further conversation about how effective diversion, mental health, and addiction programs can be supported and established. An excellent op ed from NAMI-Dane County appears earlier in this blog.
As a good step towards this dialogue, the LWVDC is urging people to contact their county board supervisors to request a joint meeting between the Public Protection and Judiciary (PP&J) and Health and Human Needs (HH&N) Committees before June 15 to discuss formulating a plan that would increase opportunities for diversion. On June 15, the full board is scheduled to receive the latest version of the Mead & Hunt recommendations concerning the jail.
Members of PP&J include Carousel Bayrd, Dorothy Krause, Maureen McCarville, Michael Willett, and Chair Paul Rusk. Members of H&HN include Hayley Young, Heidi Wegleitner, Chair Jeremy Levin, Matt Veldran, Nick Zweifel, Richard Kilmer, and Ronn Ferrell. Click here to access the website for the Dane County Board of Supervisors.
UPDATE: Advocacy works! The Health and Human Needs Committee unanimously passed a resolution asking for a joint meeting with the Public Protection and Judiciary Committee to discuss jail diversion programs.
David Wahlberg has an excellent article in the Wisconsin State Journal that finds evidence for the oft-repeated claim that money is being transferred from the Health and Human Services budget to the General Fund, where it plugs holes in the budgets of over-spending departments. Since 2011, the HH&S department has given up $25 million.
Here is an excerpt from the article: ” [CEO] Lampert said in an interview that Journey could use additional money to expand treatment sites, boost substance abuse programs, add services for the homeless, serve more teenagers and help keep people out of the jail and Mendota Mental Health Institute.”
Click here to read the article.