As chair of the Dane County Board, I appreciated the recent guest column by Lindsay Wallace of the Dane County Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. She urged a reduction in the number of inmates in any new jail facility.
I did want to emphasize, however, that the Mead & Hunt study referenced by Wallace calls for reducing — not increasing — the size of the county jail. The current jail space on the sixth and seventh floors is unacceptable from a mental health and public health perspective. Simply put, Dane County needs to make a change.
To that end, the Dane County Board has made it abundantly clear it supports alternatives to incarceration and is participating in two national efforts aimed at reducing the number of individuals in our jail.
One program is using a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to address over-incarceration by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails — with the hashtag: #rethinkjails.
Dane County is one of 20 additional jurisdictions selected to join the MacArthur Foundation Safety and Justice Challenge, a national $100 million initiative to test innovative local justice reforms designed to safely drive down jail usage and reduce racial and ethnic disparities. Dane County will focus on training of local peacemakers and technical advances to support expansion of its Community Restorative Court countywide.
The other program allows for a public safety assessment at initial court appearances to help determine flight risk or risk of new criminal activity before an offender is sent to the Dane County Jail. Funding for two positions to handle the pretrial assessments of offenders is provided by a $167,000 grant from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation of Houston, Texas.
As a community we face a major decision on replacing the unsafe and outdated jail facility and invite the public to participate by attending a presentation by the consultants Mead & Hunt to the Dane County Board on June 15 at 6 p.m. in Room 201 of the City-County Building. We will continue our sincere effort to partner with our community, stakeholders and national partners to craft a criminal justice system that is safe and equitable for all.