‘Tomorrow is too late’: Board of Supervisors, Madison council members call for immediate jail reform

Many elected officials are demanding immediate change to the disproportionate amount of incarcerated black people in the Dane County Jail

MADISON, Wis. — Two elected official groups are demanding reform in the Dane County Jail.

The Dane County Board of Supervisors published a letter calling for criminal justice reform, citing that 42% of incarcerated individuals are black, while there is only a 6% black population in the state of Wisconsin.

“We simply cannot continue to incarcerate the number of people we do, and we cannot ignore the outrageous racial disparities that plague our criminal justice system,” the letter said. “We must intensify the actions we take to break down racism in the system— from arrest to bail through prosecution and conviction to re-entry into the community. We are calling on all of our colleagues to support us with the continuation of important reforms. We need the city, state, and federal government, as well as community groups, the health care system, and local business leaders, to assist us by providing funding to create new budget initiatives that will continue to create societal and criminal justice reform and end police brutality.”

State Rep. Shelia Stubbs said, “I think something that we’ve not been good at saying is what we can and cannot do versus what we will and will not do.”

Stubbs said given the tone of what’s been happening in the community and around the country, protesters are demanding change now.

“We’ve worked on so many recommendations from our disproportion of minority contact confinement group to our mental health group to alternatives for incarceration. We have lots of recommendations out there. Now it’s time to implement these recommendations that have the same tone as 6 years ago when Tony Robinson died,” Stubbs said.

Stubbs recommended that one way to start initiating change is through community restorative courts.

“It focuses on 17-25-year-olds. We are trying to look at our policies, our practices and training within equity. That is so different than how we’ve ever looked at policy. We are allowing ourselves to realize a system that has been unjust needs to be dismantled,” Stubbs said.

Madison Common Council members also signed a letter addressed to Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney asking for incarcerated inmates who test positive for COVID-19 be released into the healthcare system for proper quarantine measures and the chance to fully recover.

The letter reads in part: “Our request comes with great consideration to the long history of disproportionate incarceration of black and brown people in our county and across the nation, as well as with the disproportionate diagnoses and deaths of those same people here and elsewhere as a result of COVID-19. Given the unknowns of the coronavirus, it is essential that these individuals be placed in quarantine, in an appropriate care setting, and given the resources to fully recover. In efforts to prioritize public health and safety, we call upon you to place incarcerated individuals who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 into our healthcare system to ensure their proper care and treatment, as well as the collective well being of others by preventing further spread of the virus.”

The letter was signed by Mayor Satya Rhodes Conway, Council President Sheri Carter and alders Keith Fruman, Marsha Rummel, Shiva Bidar, Patrick Heck, Grant Foster, Donna Moreland and Barbara Harrington-McKinney.

Stubbs said, “The jail is a real serious conversation. We have to get things done and we have to do it right now. Tomorrow is too late.”