A proposal to cut mental-health services at the Dane County jail, included in county exec Kathleen Falk's budget, is coming under fire.
Inmates currently have access to mental-health services 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The cuts would reduce the availability of counselors to about 16 hours a day, saving roughly $200,000 a year, says Supv. Paul Rusk, chair of the County Board's public protection and judiciary committee.
"A significant percentage of people in the jail are there with mental-health needs," Rusk says. "That's every jail in the United States, not just Dane County. Dane County made a decision four years ago that we were going to enhance the health care in our jail."
Everyone admitted to the county jail now sees a mental-health worker and can request an appointment any time, says Capt. Jeff Teuscher, the jail administrator. The cuts would eliminate the third-shift worker and one of the three day-shift workers. The workers oversee the care of inmates who are on psychotropic drugs or are going through withdrawal symptoms.
"I'm empathetic to these tight fiscal times," Teuscher says. "But the clientele we deal with are folks who really need this help. A lot of our population is poor, they don't have insurance, they may be off their medication. And now that they're incarcerated, it's a chance for us to get them back on track. Being off their medicine may be what landed them in jail."
On Tuesday night, Rusk's committee held a public hearing on the cuts. Rusk, noting that an inmate killed himself in August, plans to offer an amendment to reinstate the funding, for practical as well as humanitarian reasons.
"It's very important to resolve the mental health issues [inmates] have so they don't come back," he says. "It's very expensive to house them in the jail."