New Efforts to Promote Jail Diversion Programs

Update 6/6/2017:

About 10 league members attended the joint meeting of PP&J/H&HN on 6/6/2017 to register in support of jail diversion programs for people with mental illness and substance abuse issues.  Co-President Kathleen Fullin and speakers from MOSES and NAMI urged the committees to consider a restoration center that would be open 24/7 to handle people in crisis and divert them from the jail.

Reporters from the Capital Times and WI State Journal attended. Supervisor Richard Kilmer voiced his support for the concept and thanked the League for our testimony.

Modified from Mental Health Money Matters, a blog by Katie Mulligan, chair of the Mental Health Action Committee.

We are pleased that Paul Rusk, chair of the Public Protection and Judiciary Committee (PP&J), has organized a joint committee meeting with the Health and Human Needs Committee (H&HN) to discuss the availability of mental health and substance abuse services, as they relate to plans for the Dane County jail. The meeting is at the request of the League of Women Voters of Dane County and other advocates. The H&HN Committee passed a unanimous resolution, asking for the meeting. It will take place on June 6 at 5:30 in room 354 of the City/County Building.  You can find the agenda here.

Chairperson Rusk has asked the county’s Director of Human Services, Lynn Green, to describe mental health and substance abuse programs offered by the county, with an emphasis on jail diversion efforts. Sheriff David Mahoney will talk about difficulties posed by the lack of “special needs” beds and the resulting inappropriate use of solitary confinement. The county’s corporation counsel will be available to discuss legal issues.

Time will be available for public comment and discussion between the committees. We are hoping to demonstrate public support for jail diversion programs, and specifically for a "restoration center” where law enforcement can take persons who need a safe place to regain their equilibrium without being booked into jail. Please consider attending the meeting to register on Item D of the agenda, indicating that you support diversion from the jail of persons with AODA and mental health issues. You can register and indicate you do not want to speak. Kathy Fullin will speak on behalf of the League. Here is her testimony.

PRIOR ALERT on Jail Diversion, DATED May 1, 2017, retained for background information.

County board supervisors are scheduled to hear from Mead & Hunt on June 15 about a proposal to replace the unsafe and unsanitary jail cells in the City County Building. The Mead & Hunt Final Report in December noted that the jail’s population could be reduced by diverting people who would be better served by mental health treatment. The report also noted that "bail affordability. . . is likely a key factor in determining. . .the ability of individuals to secure their release from jail.”

The projected cost of the December Mead and Hunt plan gave a range of $152 - $164 million for the total project.  Limiting the number of jail cells that must be replaced will save taxpayer money.

However the county has not developed a plan for how best to provide community based mental health and AODA treatment in order to divert people from jail. Nor has the county undertaken an initiative to take income into account when setting bail amounts. Community based treatment is generally much cheaper for the taxpayers than jail. Keeping people in jail simply because they cannot meet bail due to their low income is not cost-effective either. And for the inmates, incarceration has many negative impacts, including loss of jobs and disruption of their family life.  We need to make sure that we build new cells only for the population who must be in jail.

Please contact your county board supervisor and ask them to urge members of the Public Protection and Judiciary (PP&J) Committee to meet jointly with members of the Health and Human Needs  (H&HN) Committee before June 15 to formulate a plan of how best to provide community-based mental health and AODA treatment alternatives to divert people from the Dane County jail.  Encourage them to ask members of PP&J to work with the court system to establish bail at levels that reflect the defendants' ability to pay.

Contact information for County Board Supervisors

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.


LWVWI has strong positions about Alternatives to Incarceration (including affordable bail) and community-based mental health services to divert people from jail. LWVUS positions on Behavioral Health (mental illness and substance abuse disorder) stress that we should provide “needed treatment and avoid inappropriate entry into the criminal justice system.”

Study materials for our April 5 forum include a case study from Bexar County (San Antonio) Texas where a jail diversion program has saved considerable public money.

NAMI Dane County has an excellent and brief summary about the jail and mental health.

Isthmus published a story about the current state of the jail and the Mead & Hunt report.

The New York Times reports on research showing that AODA treatment lowers criminal justice costs.