Despite the wake-up call sounded nationwide by recent mass shootings, huge gaps remain in how Wisconsin treats people with mental illnesses who run afoul of the law. State and county officials blame a shortage of psychiatrists, growing demand for services and high medication costs.
Last year, the Center’s Rory Linnane, Tegan Wendland and Kate Golden leafed through hundreds of pages of Wisconsin county jail inspections, examining the quality of mental health care. A new report from the Center’s collaborators at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign shows that state’s jail inspection system is also riddled with problems.
Correctional workers in at least 10 counties have lost “protective” status in the past two years. Only workers with protective status may be considered public safety employees, which spares them from Act 10’s changes to collective bargaining and benefits.
Since 2003, 52 Wisconsin county jail inmates have taken their own lives. Department of Corrections jail inspector Nancy Thelen said that generally, Wisconsin’s 72 county-run jails are doing “a very good job with their suicide watches.”
But a Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism review of the counties’ most recent jail inspection records found that at least one-third of them had, like Monroe County, been cited for problems with their suicide prevention efforts.
• Wisconsin’s county-run jails are overloaded with people with mental illness — but services are largely inadequate.
• The state Department of Corrections is charged with oversight but does not evaluate the quality of jails’ mental health care.
• For nearly a quarter-century, the Legislature has required the DOC to collect and summarize annual reports on jails’ mental health care, but most jails have not provided the information, and the DOC acknowledges it has not been asking for them.
• One-third of Wisconsin’s jails have been cited for inadequate suicide prevention efforts.