In an effort to expand the discussion of mental health to include those who are currently incarcerated, the League of Women Voters of Dane County discussed alternative solutions in providing just treatment for those diagnosed with mental illnesses in the legal system.

Throughout the Wednesday event, both speakers and attendees expressed discontent with the treatment of the mentally ill by the Dane County legal system.  

Ron Lampert, president of Journey Mental Health, and Jim Moeser, deputy director of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, led the discussion in suggesting possible solutions in treating what they called an “unjust problem.”

The renovation of the Dane County Jail so it includes a psychiatric ward and staff on call is one key suggestion Lampert brought up during the meeting. Along with a renovation, he said the county should look into the creation of a mental health crisis center.

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Citing a similar establishment in Charleston, South Carolina, Lampert said that institution has been successful with treating criminals diagnosed with mental health disorders.

“One of the things that was key in making [the institution in Charleston] successful was the community collaboration,” Lampert said. “The church, the homeless shelters, the police, the hospitals … they all need to be involved.”

If such a center were to be created in Dane County, people with mental illnesses would be brought to the center after committing a crime during a mental health emergency rather than a hospital or police station, Lampert said.

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Along with improvements to current infrastructure, Lampert said he wishes to see social workers embedded into police departments in cities other than Madison in Dane County.

Sharing some of the recommendations published in a 2015 report from the Dane County Workgroup on Mental Health, Solitary Confinement, and Incarceration, Moeser emphasized developing a leadership team that would include multiple groups associated with mental health and incarceration policy.

Some of the parties Moeser recommended be a part of that team include hospital and jail employees, families of the mentally ill and other advocacy groups.

Overall, Moeser said he wants the Dane County Executive Joe Parisi to bring these different groups together because they are “a more accurate representation” of Dane County than the current legal system.

“This group would include people who are … committed to creating a kind of future for our community that [Dane County] want,” Moeser said.