Heidi Wegleitner – District 2
Thanks for asking this important question. I intend to vote NO on the jail proposal in the capital budget. The jail expansion project carries a total cost of $108M when you include the debt service, which will be $5.4M per year for 20 yrs. That amounts to over $25 per average Dane Co household per year for 20 years. This is not the right time to be investing this unprecedented (compare County Courthouse at $44M in ’06) amount of money into a broken criminal justice system. I support closure of the 6th and 7th floors of the City County building because the conditions are inhumane, but we should pursue a better plan which: (1) aggressively funds alternatives to reduce our jail population by treating persons with mental illness and addiction disorders in community based programs instead of jail, and (2) vastly expands our effort to increase access to affordable housing, prioritizing permanent supportive housing for the chronically homeless.
In July 2012, Dane County recognized Housing as a Human Right and has made incremental progress in funding new affordable housing development and project purchases for housing persons with mental illness and persons returning to the community from incarceration. Our first joint Madison-Dane County Permanent Supportive Housing for the chronically homeless and veterans– Rethke Terrace– opened in June 2016. In a short period of time, 60 people moved off the streets and into housing. Rethke made a huge dent in reducing our homeless population. That said, as of last month, we have 784 single persons on Dane County’s Homeless Services Consortium (“HSC”, our HUD Continuum of Care) Priority List for Housing. This includes 42 homeless veterans, 268 chronically homeless singles, and homeless youth (18-24 yrs). Supervisors have been periodically briefed on the HSC Built to Zero Initiative and I firmly believe we should use the 2018 budget process to Budget for Zero by significantly expanding our affordable housing initiatives to get to “functional zero” for (where our number of available units are equal to the number of people on the Priority List) veterans, chronically homeless, and youth.
Dane County prides itself on being progressive and innovative. We have recently established the Tamara Grigsby Office of Equity and Inclusion and expanded our capacity to due systems change work. Thanks in large part to the leadership of Supervisor Shelia Stubbs, we recently launched– and then expanded countywide– the Community Restorative Court (CRC) to divert young adults from the formal criminal justice system and engage in a restorative justice process. Mead and Hunt, our jail consultants, didn’t even factor the CRC into their modeling to project our jail population. Despite the significant work and recommendations of our Resolution 556 working groups, they didn’t factor any policy and practice changes to divert more people from our jail over the next 50 years. They told the County Board in their report to us in June that we’re doing a “great job” when it comes to incarceration and our jail population. What???!!! Did they ask the communities of color– profiled, over-policed, and disproportionately arrested– this question? Did they ask families of persons with mental illness or substance abuse disorders whose loved ones have been jailed because law enforcement has no alternative place to bring a person experiencing a behavioral health crisis than jail? Did they ask homeless services advocates who are struggling to find housing and supportive services for the 784 homeless singles on our HSC Priority List?
Over the last 15 years, the Dane County board has received dozens of strong recommendations for reducing our jail population and community-based recovery initiatives. Most of these recommendations remain, unfunded, collecting dust on a shelf in the County Board office. Yet, during that same time, over $65 million dollars of human services revenue has been returned to the general fund (so it can fill holes in other areas of the budget, like overtime for Sheriff’s deputies) rather being reinvested in human services to fund recommendations that would advance criminal justice reform and reduce our jail population. Each and every one of these recommendations to divert people from jail should be exhausted before we move forward with the jail expansion project as currently proposed. One of the most promising recommendations for keeping people with mental health crises out of jail is a crisis restoration center. In fact, thanks to strong advocacy from mental health advocates, County Executive Parisi has included funding for a study of the potential benefits of a crisis restoration center in his budget proposal. I think the benefits are obvious and this money could be used to actually begin the planning and development of the center. This is yet another reason why it is the wrong time to push forward the $108M jail expansion project. There is more, alternative planning work that must be completed first.