Group protests jail funding in Dane County budget

Group protests jail funding in Dane County budget

A group calling itself “Derail the Jail” protested before Wednesday’s Dane County Board of Supervisors budget hearing on the county’s proposed $75 million renovation of the jail.

Protestors called for the funding to instead be spent on housing, mental health and diversion programs.

“If we invest in the jail system without investing more in the community, we’re going to get more of the same results that we’ve been getting,” Eric Upchurch, part of the group Young, Gifted and Black, which opposes the jail renovations, said.

County officials, however, have argued that the jail is unsafe for both inmates and staff , as the six-decade-old facility sees a spike in suicide attempts by prisoners.

“It’s just an antiquated unsafe facility that really hurts people’s mental health,” Sharon Corrigan, board chairwoman, said.

Corrigan said that while she supports diversion programs, the county has a responsibility to have a safe jail.

“As much as we divert people from the jail system, we are going to have people in our jail for some time to come,” she said. “We have to have safe secure spaces for people to be in.”

Upchurch said he disagrees. He said despite the jail’s safety issues, adding funding to the jail wouldn’t fix the larger problems leading to incarceration.

“No one’s arguing that there’s an issue with safety, that there’s an issue with mental health, that there’s an issue with crime in our communities, but we’re differing in terms of how we want to solve that issue,” he said. “People out here in the community tonight are saying that we need to focus on empowering the community to solve those issues, rather than relying on a failed system.”

The full county board will vote on the budget on Nov. 20, Corrigan said.