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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Dane County takes steps forward to address issues within criminal justice system

Efforts include improving communication between professionals, identifying community resources
Courtesy of Pixabay

Dane County announced late January they are working to identify and respond to adults with mental health and substance abuse disorders to keep them out of jail.

According to a press release, this is part of their ongoing effort to reform the criminal justice system throughout the county.

Part of Dane County’s most recent effort involves Sequential Intercept Mapping to identify the existing community resources and opportunities for improved communication between mental health, substance abuse and criminal justice professionals, the release said.


Colleen Clark, Dane County criminal justice council coordinator, was a part of the mapping’s unique approach.

“We had a very specific lens around behavioral health and criminal justice, looking from the community to the first potential interaction,” Clark said. “This means the crisis lines, 911 and law enforcement, all the way through to the Department of Corrections and access to housing.”

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At a January workshop with law enforcement, mental health providers, county human service workers and community members, the focus was how to deflect and divert people with mental illness out of the jails — as jail isn’t the place for someone with a severe mental illness, Clark said.

They spent time looking at all systems and their intercepts to identify the gaps in the current system. The information from this workshop will allow the county to put their plans into motion and fully utilize their resources, Clark said.

“Dane County is resource rich, so we are attempting to do this mapping to really make sure those resources are used to the utmost, and that there is communication and collaboration between all systems,” Clark said. “[We want to] make sure everyone is aware of what is going on and that people aren’t falling through the cracks.”

According to the Dane County Sheriff’s Office website, the current Dane County jail diversion program allows the inmate to reside in their home, which they are confined to and monitored by an electronic device. Their residence must be free of alcohol, illegal drugs and firearms, and they can leave their residence only for exercising their Huber privileges.

The diversion effort is not new to the county, Elise Schaffer, Dane County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson, said.

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“[Diversion] is something we have been doing for several years,” Schaffer said. “It started as a response to overcrowding in the jails. Since that time, it’s been fine-tuned, and we average between 100 to 125 people on a regular basis that are on a jail diversion program. They are screened very carefully, and we have about a 90 percent success rate.”

There are currently 28 programs in place to reduce the population in jails within Dane County, Dane County Board Chair Sharon Corrigan said in an email to The Badger Herald.

These 28 programs fall under five different law enforcement establishments in Dane County: 911 Law Enforcement and Human Services, the Clerk of Courts, the District Attorney’s Office, Human Services and the Dane County Sheriff’s Office, Corrigan said.

The current 28 programs are a part of a broader county effort to #RethinkJails, Corrigan said. This hashtag comes from the MacArthur Foundation Safety and Justice Challenge, which Dane County is participating in.

“Right now, we are bringing people together to work collaboratively and to communicate about [diversion efforts] and identify new strategies,” Corrigan said. “We’re trying to do more front-end diversion with the Community Restorative Court and on re-entry, working with them when they get out of jail so that they don’t end up in that revolving door.”

Corrigan also noted the current mental health diversion, commenting that 6.4 percent of men and 12.2 percent of women entering the U.S. jails have a severe mental illness compared to less than 2 percent of the general population. In addition, 72 percent have an occurring substance use disorder.

Schaffer believes diversion brings many benefits to inmates and can be beneficial in their re-entry in the community.

“If someone qualifies to be on jail diversion, there are lots of benefits to it,” Schaffer said. “They can stay in their home, they can maintain employment, they can stay with family members and in some cases care for children who are at home.”

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While the diversion would add a bit more freedom for inmates, they would still have to follow the strict rules as if they were in jail, Schaffer said.

Participants in these programs are monitored via GPS 24 hours a day. In addition, Schaffer said deputies will respond immediately should they receive an alert on GPS or believe for any reason that a person is violating the rules of the program.

Even with the strict supervision that comes with diversion, Schaffer believes it brings many advantages to the Dane County community.

“It would keep sour numbers down within the jail, so we don’t have to deal with the possibility of sending inmates to other counties should we become past our population that we can have in the jails, so we would save money that way. And just being able to keep people employed and with their families,” Schaffer said.

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