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Prison reform, mental health funding may be on deck in Dane County

Image By: Jon Yoon and Jon Yoon

Dane County could be one step closer to updated jail facilities and increased access to mental health services for inmates.

County Executive Joe Parisi proposed Monday a $537 million operating budget for 2018. About 14 percent of that — $75 million — is allotted to updating the Dane County Jail, which has been highly scrutinized in the past for dwindling building conditions and a lack of resources for prisoners.

The renovation plan would consolidate prison facilities in the Public Safety Building, a county facility located at 115 W. Doty Street. Currently, the Dane County Jail also houses prisoners at two other locations, the City-County Building downtown and the Ferris Center for Huber Inmates.

The plan would also eliminate solitary confinement, which is currently used at the jail, and reduce nearly 100 beds from the facility. County officials called restructuring the “clearest demonstration this project is being built based on need and a continuing confidence in the effectiveness of our rigorous jail diversion programs,” in a release.

The budget also includes funding for mental health services, which some say could indirectly help local prison reform.

It allocates new funding for the Dane County branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, which previously absorbed most of the costs for its services. Public financial assistance could reduce the number of those with mental illness in the Dane County Jail, NAMI Director Lindsey Wallace told the County Board last month.

“When people have chest pain they have the awareness to call an ambulance or a doctor to have their heart checked,” Parisi said in a release. “Mental illness doesn’t lend toward the same awareness. Government has a role, a bridge to resources for those unable to receive care through their current health coverage. To do better for our community, coordination and communication is critical.”

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