County Resolution Would Address Criminal Justice

February 19, 2015
County Board Chair Sharon Corrigan, 608.333.2285 County Board Vice Chair Carousel Bayrd, 608.658-7333 Public Protection & Judiciary Committee Chair Paul Rusk, 608.249.9667 County Supervisor Shelia Stubbs, 608.345.6961
County Board

Resolution to be introduced tonight creates community workgroups to address racial disparity, mental health, and alternatives to incarceration and addresses jail health & safety


Dane County Board Chair Sharon Corrigan and County Board Supervisors Shelia Stubbs, Carousel Bayrd, Leland Pan, and Paul Rusk today announced that they will introduce a resolution at tonight’s County Board meeting to address ongoing concerns of racial disparity and mental health in the criminal justice system and, additionally, will seek recommendations regarding immediate health and safety at the Dane County Jail.


“The debate so far seems to have been whether to build a new jail or not build a new jail,” Corrigan said. “We can’t just build our way out of issues we face. We need to identify the problems and fix them in a way that spends taxpayer money wisely, keeps the public safe, and treats people equitably. There are definitely serious issues at the jail. Too many people with significant mental health issues spend too much time in solitary confinement. Safety is an issue. Outdated jail cells don’t allow for rapid evacuation in the event of an emergency. And, we still lock up a disproportionate number of people of color.”


The resolution establishes three work groups of the Dane County Board’s Public Protection & Judiciary Committee: one workgroup to study inmates’ length of stay; one to study mental health issues facing inmates; and one to study alternatives to incarceration. In addition, consulting firm Mead & Hunt will make recommendations regarding space needs of the jail and its population based on work group recommendations.


"Our jail is one of the largest mental health facilities in Dane County. That has to stop," said County Board Vice Chair Carousel Bayrd. "This proposal aims to both increase mental health options that keep people out of the jail, and to improve the conditions in the jail so that no one with any mental health challenge is placed in solitary confinement or any space that will exacerbate their mental state. I'm proud to be one of the lead sponsors of this bill tonight, to start taking responsibility for our criminal justice system and lead the way on real changes that will impact every life in our community."


“As the chair of Public Protection and Judiciary, I am pleased we are moving forward with a comprehensive approach to addressing disproportionate minority incarceration in our justice system while recognizing the need to address serious health and safety issues in our 1953 jail," said Supervisor Paul Rusk. "By combining the work of three community workgroups with that of our nationally recognized consulting firm founded here in Madison, we hope to develop state-of-the-art solutions that can truly make a difference in the lives of those in our criminal justice system. This includes enhancing mental health treatment options and hopefully eliminating most solitary confinement of inmates that is both unjust and counterproductive to their health.”


"As the lead sponsor of the Racial Disparities Initiatives, I believe it's a mandate that we continue to articulate a comprehensive plan that addresses the root causes of racial inequity in Dane County,” said Supervisor Shelia Stubbs. “It is essential that we begin to recognize that it is unacceptable to continue to incarcerate African Americans at a higher rate. We must send a clear message that this conduct is no longer accepted in Dane County. Alternatives to incarcerations have been proven effective. We must divert more people from the criminal justice system in which we know problems have been and continue to be exacerbated. In addition, we must be willing to consider alternatives to incarceration because they can give courts more options when sentencing and can keep people with their families. I hope that this resolution addresses the immediate life, health and safety issues within the City-County Building Jail. We should be ashamed, embarrassed and disappointed in the condition of our jail."


"One of the most fundamental roles of government is ensuring public safety," said Supervisor Leland Pan. "It is not about just feeling safe, but about everyone truly being safe. Any conversation about the criminal justice system must be focused on that objective. We must dig deeper to really address the question of why crimes are committed. We have higher crime rates and higher incarcerations rates than most democratic countries. This is not a reflection of our people - it is a demonstration of a system that does not truly make us safer. Being in jail increases, not reduces, a person's chance to commit crimes again. Expanding services, reducing the negative impacts of jail, and addressing racial disparities are necessary next steps in tackling the bigger issue of public safety."


If approved, the work groups would be comprised of up to 11 members each, appointed by the Dane County Board Public Protection & Judiciary Committee Chair.


The resolution will receive a public hearing at a special joint meeting of the Public Protection and Judiciary Committee and the Health and Human Needs Committee on Tuesday, February 24 at 5:30 pm at the Alliant Energy Center.