County officials announced today that the Ferris Huber Center, the former work-release jail just off Rimrock Road, will be shut down and converted into the home of the new Crisis Triage Center.
Plans to find a space for mental health triage have been in the works for years. The goal? To help people experiencing addiction and mental health issues, and keep them out of the carceral system.
Here’s how Dane County Executive Joe Parisi outlined the plan earlier today:
“A Crisis Triage Center is a 24/7 resource, a place where an individual experiencing a mental health emergency can go to de-escalate, receive immediate care and assessment, and referral to an appropriate resource,” Parisi says.
Once open, people could either be dropped off by family or law enforcement, or check in by themselves, and stay for up to 23 hours. As Executive Parisi says, it would be a place to truly triage a mental health crisis.
“During that 23 hour time period, they will get help de-escalating, they will be assessed to figure out what’s going on, and to figure out what the best course of action for them is,” Parisi says. “Is it a referral to a longer-term crisis center, or are they able to get some counseling, go back to their family, and sign up for some ongoing counseling. Every situation is different, and this would be the one place where, if you didn’t know where to turn, someone would be there to help you.”
The Crisis Triage Center will be housed in the building that was formerly home to the Ferris Huber Center, which, until recently, had housed jail residents on work release for decades.
That wound down in summer 2021, when inmates on work release were released and transitioned to electronic monitoring.
Today, only the electronic monitoring department of the Sheriff’s Office uses the space.
Dane County Sheriff Kalvin Barrett says that it is symbolic that the building will now be used to help those experiencing a mental health crisis.
“The county executive and I are proud to stand in front of a building that was built in the 1980s for incarceration, and now announce its transition to the Crisis Triage Center to focus on treatment for those who are experiencing short-term mental crisis, This facility will divert those with mental health crises from our criminal justice system, and out of our jail population,” Sheriff Barrett says.
Barrett adds that, with the building’s transition to becoming the new Crisis Triage Center, the electronic monitoring department will have to find a new home. Barrett says where that will be hasn’t yet been decided.
Jeanne McLellan is the Executive Director of the National Alliance of Mental Health Dane County, or NAMI. She says that the Crisis Triage Center will fill a much needed gap in supporting those going through a mental health emergency.
“We need the support for a safe, less-restrictive place for our peers going through a mental health crisis,” McLellan says. “A lot of times now when there’s a crisis, people are picked up, and police transport them either to Winnebago, which is a couple of hours away, or they are transported to Mendota, which can be extremely traumatic.”
Neither Parisi nor Barrett could provide a timeline for when the Crisis Triage Center will open, but did outline the next steps. The County Board has already approved over $14.3 million dollars for the project, to fund the construction and initial opening of the facility.
The county will begin to hire a consultant in the next few weeks to assess the facility, and create a plan for its redevelopment. Later this year, the county plans to open applications to find an organization to run the facility.
Photo courtesy: Nate Wegehaupt / WORT News Team