City News

Local inmate conditions in spotlight as officials weigh county budget

Members of the community addressed the Dane County Board at a budget hearing Tuesday, calling for improved prison conditions and increased mental health services in the area.

Image By: Jon Yoon

A prison in downtown Madison is taking center stage as officials and community members prepare for county funding plans to be decided next month.

Among members of the public who spoke at a budget hearing Tuesday night, all but one of them called for improvements to the Dane County Jail, which is set to be renovated once county officials can agree on a plan for it.

Officials have sparred on how to move forward with prison renovations for about a decade. The most recent proposal, given a green light by a county subcommittee in July, puts a $75.2 million price tag on the project.

For Giuliana Chamedes, a Dane County resident, more of that funding should go to mental health services that she says keep people out of jail in the first place.

“I’m calling on Dane County to tackle the root of incarceration,” she said to the County Board, also noting the jail renovation “doesn’t seem to be moving forward.”

Lindsay Wallace, director of the Dane County branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, agrees. She told the board allocating more of the budget to her organization—which currently receives no direct funding from the county or city—could help inmates overall.

NAMI Dane County runs crisis intervention training for police officers, she said, and absorbs most of the cost. More funding could reduce the number of those with mental illness in the Dane County Jail, she said.

The jail has been highly scrutinized in the past, with some noting dwindling building conditions and others a lack of resources for prisoners. Some of the biggest changes in the most recent renovation plan would consolidate prison facilities in the Public Safety Building downtown and end solitary confinement, which is currently used at the jail.

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi is expected to announce the budget by Oct. 1.

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