Parisi Responds to Pressure from Jail Diversion Advocates: Sheriff’s Department Benefits

MOSES and other organizations have fought persistently for the right of people with mental illness to be treated in the community instead of being incarcerated.

County Executive Parisi seems to have heard the words.  He includes a focus on jail alternatives and re-entry services in his most recent budget proposals concerning the Dane County Jail.   But, the meaning remains elusive.  Most of the new funding would go to the criminal justice system.

Here are some of the highlights from Parisi’s proposal, as reported in the Wisconsin State Journal (10/1).   Click here to read the article.

His budget proposal would reduce the total number of beds by 91 which, according to him, “illustrates our commitment to alternatives and services to avoid re-incarceration.”

The new jail would have 64 mental health beds.  It currently has none, resulting in solitary confinement for inmates with mental health problems.  According to Sheriff Mahoney, the proposed space “will allow us to virtually eliminate solitary confinement.”

The budget includes $110,000 for re-entry case management services that would provide peer support counselors to help inmates transition back into the community and offer  help finding housing, mental health or substance abuse treatment services.

The budget also contains $68,000 to hire someone to  coordinate the Dane County Re-Entry Team, which is made up of staff from the Sheriff’s Office and Dane County Human Services.

Sheriff Mahoney’s budget includes $1.1 million for re-entry and diversion staff and programming. That staff would work with the team in the community (budgeted at $110,000) to provide a “seamless handoff” as inmates leave jail.

The budget also provides: $100,000 for a comprehensive review of local mental health resources to identify gaps in services and barriers to access; $100,000 to keep  Safe Haven open, and $15,000 to NAMI-Dane to expand its crisis intervention training course for police, public safety and medical personnel.

The math does not compute for anyone who wants more community treatment and less jail time for people with mental illness.  Sheriff Mahoney gains more than $1 million for diversion and programming.  An unspecified community team is budgeted at about 1/10 that amount for re-entry case management services.  That team is responsible for assisting inmates find mental health services and other help.  Those services receive a zero increase.

ANOTHER LOOK AT THE BUDGET: Here is hopeful language from Parisi’s budget statement concerning the crisis restoration center.

” Recently, there’s been discussion about the feasibility of a Mental Health Crisis Restoration Facility to further our community’s response to mental illness. Done in the context of a more thorough examination of available mental health resources in our community, this concept is worth exploring. A comprehensive review of existing mental health services and potential gaps in services would identify how such a facility could be operated in partnership with health care providers and community organizations. It could also shed appropriate focus on the need for all entities – including our health care providers – to reexamine how current mental health services are accessed and administered. There is room to do better. My budget includes $100,000 for a comprehensive review of existing mental health services in our community. This work will both identify potential gaps while evaluating how a potential Crisis Restoration Center or similar community run facility could help improve care and outcomes.”

 

 

 

 

Grants Available to Help “High Users” of the Jail and Social Services

MOSES published a position paper describing the problems associated with people who are “high users” of the Dane County jail and various social service systems.  “Many of these individuals experience complex chronic health conditions including histories of trauma, substance abuse disorders, mental health and chronic homelessness.”  They are expensive for society and lead painful lives.  Click here to read the paper.

Funds are available from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation for grants to test interventions for these frequent users of multiple systems.  Deadline is October 1.

Here is an excerpt from the solicitation description:

“Funding will be distributed to help city, county, and state governments use data from randomized controlled trials to identify individuals who frequently utilize hospitals, jails, and housing assistance services with the goal of connecting them to appropriate evidence-based interventions. Proposals should target interventions that address some or all of the following outcomes of interest: reduction in arrest and recidivism rates; reduction in the use of medical services, such as emergency room visits and hospitalizations; improved health outcomes; housing stability; and economic well-being.”

Click here for more information.

 

 

 

Join “Listening Session” on Jail Diversion Options

NAMI-Dane County and MOSES are sponsoring a listening session to discuss issues related to mental health and the Dane County Jail.  Paul Saeman of MOSES will present successful models for jail diversion in other jurisdictions.  Carousel Bayrd, who attended the Stepping Up Summit in Washington, D.C., will offer the perspective of a member of the Dane County Board of Supervisors.

The event will take place at Trinity Lutheran Church, 1901 W. Winnebago St., Madison from 6:00 to 8:00 on March 16th.

 

 

After the March: Act Locally

Madison had the second highest per capita number of marchers in the country.  We might  have been first if so many of us had not marched in Washington, D.C.

How can we harness all that energy and maintain it over four long years?  I made a list to remind myself of all the opportunities close at hand.  They suit my priorities and mostly fit in my “keep at it” category.  But, still, they might offer some new ideas to someone else.

Learn about local government. The League of Women Voters Dane County encouraged its members to attend committee meetings of the city and county governments in the next months.  I’m going to a meeting of the county’s Health and Human Needs Committee on January 25.  We will discuss what we learned at unit meetings in February.

Follow the Money.  A coalition of 18 organizations released an alternative budget showing that nearly $900 million would be available to improve the lives of middle- and low-income people in Wisconsin by closing two tax programs that benefit millionaires and other wealthy people.  The Wisconsin Budget Project posted the budget on its website, along with other reports that help explain how fiscal policies affect our lives.  I learned only a few days ago that Wisconsin’s minimum wage is one of the lowest in the country.

Try to Understand and Explain Medicaid.  Medicaid is the largest source of funds for mental health services.  It is particularly important to poor people and people with serious mental illness.  But, it is a very complicated program that varies from state to state.  Wisconsin’s situation is especially complicated because Governor Walker refused federal funds to expand services, but used state tax dollars to add some people to the rolls.  The various proposals for change likely will end up decreasing services and reducing the number of people who are eligible.  Understanding and explaining how that will happen is hard.

Stay Informed about Efforts to Get People with Mental Illness into Treatment instead of Jail.  Dane County has had lots of activity on the goal of reforming the criminal justice system during the last couple of years.  The County Board produced a report with 30 recommendations.  MOSES continues to meet and offer good ideas.  Dane County sent a team to a Stepping Up Summit to learn from experts and other communities.  But, the necessary expansion of mental health services has not occurred.  We need an economic argument, showing that tax dollars would be saved by treating people before they are sentenced.  The Stepping Up Initiative website offers accounts from communities that have been more successful than we have.  I’ll try to learn from them.

Remember that Money Helps.  When I’m feeling too old, tired, or discouraged to do something about an issue, I’ll try to remind myself that some organization doubtless is working on it and its employees need paychecks.

Wisconsin Coalition Finds Nearly $900 Million for New Investments in the State’s Families and Workers

A coalition of health, welfare and labor organizations is pushing back on the idea that the state can not afford to spend money to improve the lives of its middle-income and poor residents.

“For too long, we’ve all been told that there’s not enough money in the budget to help our communities thrive. That is not true,” a spokesperson claimed.

Where did they find the money? In two tax loopholes that benefit those in high-income tax brackets. Elimination of a tax break that greatly reduces the state income tax for certain manufacturers and agricultural producers would yield about $284 million annually. Nearly 80 percent of the credit goes to people earning over $1 million. Treating capital gains like ordinary income would yield about $164 million annually. The top 2 percent of earners receive almost half of the capital gains tax breaks. The analysis assumes a two-year legislative budget.

The savings could buy a lot. “A Wisconsin Budget for All” proponents offered a list that includes an increase in living wages for caregivers, an expansion of the earned income tax credit that would help low-income workers, free tuition at technical colleges for seniors and some older workers, a new funding stream to hire and retain teachers, and other programs that would improve the lives of Wisconsin residents.

The coalition includes 18 organizations. Its website is: http://www.facebook.com/WisconsinBudgetForAll.   Click here to access the full budget report.

UPDATE:  The Wisconsin Budget Project reported that 19 states increased the minimum wage this month.   Most states exceed the federal requirement for a minimum wage of $7.25/hour.  Wisconsin’s minimum wage remains at $7.25/hour.  Click  here to read the full report.

UPDATE:  The Wisconsin Budget Project updated its information on the cost to taxpayers of the tax break for agricultural producers and manufacturers.  Below is an excerpt from the report.

“The Manufacturing and Agriculture Credit (MAC) is on track to cost the state an estimated $299 million this year by cutting taxes for manufacturers and others – and more than $650 million in the two-year budget period that starts in July 2017.  The cost of this tax break is running more than double the amount that lawmakers originally anticipated when they approved the credit in 2011.”

NAMI-Dane County Moves Quickly to Meet New Challenges

Just when we need hope and energy they have appeared at NAMI-Dane County.  Lindsay Wallace, the new executive director, and the board of directors have launched several initiatives that will help members meet the obvious challenges ahead.

The board went through a strategic planning process designed to establish priorities and methods to measure success.  The three broad goals are: sustainability (fundraising-development), youth mental health, and advocacy.  Each goal has specific objectives to be met, often with target dates.

The redesigned website provides a staff blog.  A recent entry offers lessons learned from a MOSES-sponsored meeting on the mental health implications of crimeless revocation.  Such revocation occurs when a person is sent back to jail for a parole violation instead of committing a crime.  Executive Director Wallace was a speaker.

The strategic plan appears on the website, as do board minutes.  Recently, members heard an update on Housing Initiatives, a program that provides housing for people with mental illness.  Board members also are working on problems related to the criminal justice system.

NAMI-Dane County’s advocacy committee meets the 2nd Monday of every month from 5:30 to 7:00 at the United Way Building, 2059 Atwood Ave.  Currently, the committee is working on issues concerning youth mental health.

The website address is: http://www.namidanecounty.org.

What Happened after “No New Jail” in Dane County?

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.”

  1. Remodel the current jail to reflect a more humane and modern facility.
  2. Develop culturally relevant community-based crisis, assessment and resource center.
  3. Increase the number and reach of mobile crisis response staff/teams.
  4. Develop more culturally relevant and family centered outreach and engagement.
  5. Add culturally relevant staff to work in collaboration with current mental health, substance abuse, or developmental disability services and community resources.
  6. Create and sustain a culturally diverse workforce.
  7. Reduce the length of time in solitary confinement and administrative segregation.
  8. Convene a leadership team of mental health providers, advocates and others to explore financing issues. (County Executive should lead.)
  9. Support the development of a plan to deliver additional training and resources for judicial officials, attorneys, and others involved in the court process, and
  10. 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.”

San Antonio Offers a Model for Criminal Justice and Mental Health Reform

Reporters for Spotlight, the Boston Globe‘s famed investigatory unit, spent several months examining the mental health system in Massachusetts.  They found many familiar problems in their state and a success story in an unlikely place: San Antonio, Texas.

Click here for their story “San Antonio became a national leader in mental health care by working together as a community.”

It took decades of hard work by leaders in the mental health and criminal justice systems to produce what is termed “the San Antonio model.”  Here is a description from the article of the result.

“This coalition in San Antonio has built a crisis center for psychiatric and substance abuse emergencies and a 22-acre campus for the homeless that resembles a community college. To date, more than 100,000 people have been diverted from jail and emergency rooms to treatment, local officials say, resulting in a savings of nearly $100 million over an eight-year period.  Thousands of emergency responders in San Antonio and Bexar County have been trained to manage mental health crises.”

MOSES, the interfaith organization, presented the model to the task group on mental health and criminal justice appointed by the Dane County Board of Supervisors.  There are obvious differences between Bexar and Dane Counties, but the article provides many good ideas about how we can move forward to address long-standing problems.

Prison Reform Saves Money and Cuts Crime

Wisconsin’s crime rate increased 12 percent from 2009 to 2014, while Minnesota’s rate decreased by 6 percent.  Consider those figures along with the fact that state and local governments in Wisconsin spend nearly twice as much per capita on corrections as those in Minnesota.  In FY 2013, the figures were $259 for each resident of Wisconsin and $163 for each Minnesota resident.

WISDOM, a network of faith-based organizations in Wisconsin, used those figures and other analysis to make a strong case that criminal justice reform saves money and reduces crime. Their representatives spoke before the state’s Legislative Council Study Committee on Reducing Recidivism on October 17.

The bad news: Wisconsin is the only state during the last decade to have moved backwards in terms of reform. Eighteen states have enacted “big and comprehensive reform” and 15 states have enacted “significant reform.”  A “driving motivation of reform is the crippling cost of incarceration.”

The good news: Several common sense steps could be taken quickly that would move the state towards a more humane, effective system and save taxpayer dollars.  Fully fund the Treatment Alternatives and Diversion (TAD) program that has reduced recidivism and costs of incarceration; review the status of 2,800 parole eligible prisoners, many of whom are caught in administrative limbo, and reinstate a successful early release program.

Even better news: The Council of State Governments Justice Center and the Pew Charitable Trusts have worked with 23 states to promote “justice reinvestment,” intended to reduce corrections spending and reinvest the savings in strategies that reduce recidivism.  Technical assistance is available free of charge if a state is selected for help.

For resources and more information about WISDOM’s Restore our Community project, click here.

UPDATE:  Click here for a letter from Sen. Lena Taylor published in the Milwaukee Courier describing outcomes of the hearing.

Tell Rep. Mark Pocan to Support Mental Health/Criminal Justice Reform

Rep. Mark Pocan (D) published a statement yesterday in Cap Times telling readers why they should vote to re-elect him to Congress.  He called himself a “strong progressive voice” who fought for higher wages, better public education funding, help for low-income college students, prevention of gun violence, and stronger labor unions.  Here is his statement.

Conspicuous by its absence is any mention of efforts to address criminal justice reform.  That issue captured national attention and continues to be very important to many of Pocan’s constituents in Dane County.  In the summer of 2015, three work  groups appointed by the Dane County Board of Supervisors came up with an extensive report, “Investigating Solutions to Racial Disparities and Mental Health Challenges in the Dane County Jail and Throughout Dane County’s Criminal Justice System.”  Board members are working to implement its 30 recommendations.

Moses, an interfaith organization concerned with criminal justice reform, hosts monthly meetings, develops policy and informational materials, testifies, and works with the county board and state legislators to bring about change.  Dane County was one of 50 applicants selected to send representatives to the Stepping Up Summit in Washington, D.C.  The Stepping Up Initiative is a multi-year effort by three national organizations to reduce the number of people with mental illness in jails and prisons.

Pocan has had nearly a year to take a simple and obvious step in support of the work of his constituents. He could join 59 Democrats and 43 Republicans as a co-sponsor of the Comprehensive Justice and Mental Health Act of 2015 (HR 1854).  An identical bill, originally sponsored by Sen. Al Franken, passed the Senate in December of 2015 with strong bipartisan support.  It was reported out of committee to the full House the next month.  Representatives continue to join as co-sponsors, with the most recent addition in September.

The bill would authorize funds for a “sequential intercept” model, which provides interventions for dealing with people with mental illness at various stages of the criminal justice process.  It would also provide grants for emergency and crisis services, alternatives to jail, and training for police.

Contact Pocan here and tell him to join other “progressives” such as Elijah Cummings, Charlie Rangel and Joseph Kennedy, and work with his constituents to bring about criminal justice reform.