Madison community members gathered at the City County Building Tuesday to give input about building a new county jail.

Many who were in support of the jail came from Moses, a non-partisan interfaith organization in Madison working on ending incarceration on a wide-scale.

Those in opposition came from different groups such as Freedom Inc., an organization to prevent discrimination in Madison, and National Alliance on Mental Health.

Both sides were also supported by community members.

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Community member Jane Gresik said the jail would provide safety for the community.

“I intend to hold the Dane County Board to their promises and commitments. I wish to thank the board for funding a new jail which will provide safety, programming and space for private reflection, as well as socialization,” Gresik said.

Eric Howland, a member of Moses, said the correction officers should treat detainees well while they’re in jail, so when they are released, they can become valued members of the community.

Others in support of the funding argued for restorative justice and educational programs for the jail. Gresik said the jail would be of economic value to the city of Madison.

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Speakers in opposition pressed against funding for a jail because they believed in rehabilitative programs before jail time.

Jane Brotman, a psychotherapist in Madison, believed treatment, housing for the homeless and addressing those who suffer from mental illness are all alternatives.  

“For jail to be the solution, it seems like such a medieval response,” Brotman said.

Similarly, Zon Moua, director of youth organizing for Freedom Inc. argued many who are jailed do not understand the justice system.

She said as a person of color, she believes many are arrested for inappropriate reasons.

Giuliana Chamedes, a University of Wisconsin professor of history, emphasized that if Dane County invests more robustly in alternatives to incarceration, it will likely be able to reduce jail numbers. Therefore, it is premature to approve a jail plan that effectively preserves the status quo.

“Studies show that alternatives to incarceration are effective. Dane County should invest in those alternatives, instead of ‘treating’ people with mental health and drug addiction issues through jailtime,” Chamedes said.


Correction: This article has been updated to more accurately reflect UW professor Giuliana Chamedes’s views.