Last Thursday, the Dane County Board of Supervisors passed a large criminal justice reform package intended to address racial disparities in policing and incarceration.
While local officials say the package is an important first step in bringing concrete change, some Madison residents criticized the package for not going far enough.
The Dane County Board of Supervisors voted last week to develop and fund a mental health triage and restoration center, a community justice center, and a mental health first responders pilot program, in collaboration with the City of Madison.
During the Dane County Board meeting last Thursday, District 23 supervisor Shelia Stubbs gave an impassioned defense of the package.
“If you truly believe in alternatives to incarceration, the answer tonight is yes,” Stubs says.
Analiese Eicher , the chair of the Dane County Board of Supervisors, says that while many of the ideas in the package have been considered in Dane County before, “This is the beginning of the operationalizing.”
Eicher says, currently, Madison law enforcement have only two options on where to take someone–the emergency room or jail.
“And sometimes neither of those places is the correct place,” Eicher says.
The development of a mental health triage and restoration center, one of the key initiatives of the resolution, would provide mental health services for both the community and individuals brought in by police, and connect them to other resources.
According to Eicher, the Board has worked with County Executive Joe Parisi to secure $300,000 in funding for the mental health triage and restoration center.
The package also begins the budgeting and development of a community justice center. Eicher says a justice center would help community members in interacting with the courts and other government systems.
“Part of our process will be figuring out what exactly needs to happen in Dane County,” Eicher says, “what do we need, what are we missing, what do we currently have that is hard to access?”
The resolution also includes the development of a pilot program for a non-law enforcement first responder program, a joint project by the City of Madison and Dane County modeled after similar programs in other municipalities. While the program is still being designed and budgeted, Eicher says the goal is to have the pilot up-and-running within the next year.
During the meeting, Lev Simmons, representing the advocacy organization Madison Socialist Alternative criticized the board for not halting the construction of the new Dane County jail to replace current aging facilities, and not taking a stronger stance within the package itself.
“It’s clear that you don’t think that we’re listening, that you don’t take your job as democratically elected officials seriously,” Simmons says.
Eicher says that while she understands where these criticisms are coming from, the Dane County Board doesn’t have the authority to legislate every part of the legal system and across every level of government.
“If we could, we be having a much different conversation,” Eicher says, “and so, for the folks that are saying this doesn’t go far enough, I guess I would ask them to help put pressure on those other pieces of the system.”
Photo: Brian Standing/ WORT News