Joe Parisi (copy)

Alongside other county officials, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi announced on Thursday the creation of a new subcommittee focused on the intersection of behavioral health and criminal justice. 

A joint program between Dane County and area schools that provides mental health support for students reached a milestone after serving 524 students and their families this school year, according to officials. 

Building Bridges started during the 2014-15 school year at the elementary schools that feed into East High School, before eventually expanding to the West, Memorial and La Follette high school attendance areas in subsequent years. The program helps children in 4K through eighth grade with mental health crises and challenges.

At a press conference Thursday, Dane County officials said the collaboration now includes the Sun Prairie, Verona, DeForest, Oregon, Mount Horeb, Stoughton, Waunakee, Middleton-Cross Plains and Wisconsin Heights school districts. Building Bridges has reached students in 88 schools across the county.

Each Building Bridges team is made up of one staff member funded by a school district and one clinical social worker from Catholic Charities that is funded by the county. The program provides a 90-day intervention, and helps connect students with long-term care if necessary after the 90 days. 

The county pointed to Building Bridges' success and announced new efforts to strengthen mental health services as part of Mental Health Awareness Month. 

A new subcommittee will be formed to focus on behavioral health and the criminal justice system. The subcommittee will report to the Criminal Justice Council whose members include the Dane County executive, Dane County Board chair, sheriff and district attorney, among others. The subcommittee will create data-driven recommendations that could lead to policy changes, according to officials. 

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“Improving mental health services is a community challenge in need of a community response,” County Executive Joe Parisi said. “Health care providers, health insurance companies, hospitals, community-based services, the county, schools, and others need to continuously innovate to meet the growing and evolving (mental health care) needs. From the innovative Building Bridges effort we launched a few years ago in our schools to expanding crisis response services and now this latest effort, county government is stepping forward to improve mental health outcomes for those of all ages — now we need our health care partners to do the same.”

“We are committed to deflecting and diverting people with behavioral health issues out of the criminal justice system,” said County Board Chair Sharon Corrigan. “Behavioral health and criminal justice systems often collide and create barriers to successful treatment.

"This new cross agency subcommittee will provide an ongoing and intentional effort to keep people out of jail and into services that work for them.”


Education Reporter

Negassi Tesfamichael is the local education reporter at The Cap Times. He joined the paper in 2018. He previously worked as an intern at WISC-TV/ and at POLITICO.