The Dane County sheriff and the Young, Gifted and Black Coalition debated the ethics behind the renovations to the Dane County Jail Thursday on UW-Madison's campus.
Debating in favor of the renovations was Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney and UW-Madison Professor Emeritus Dr. Doug Kramer with the School of Psychiatry. YGB’s M Adams and Nino Rodriguez, a volunteer with Madison Organizing in Strength, Equality and Solidarity, argued against the renovations and state violence.
The debate proceeded with Mahoney’s opening statement, which addressed the recent shooting of Tony Robinson by Madison Police Department officer Matt Kenny and expressed his faith that the investigation will deliver answers.
“I’m sorry that in our community, Dane County, there continues to be friction between our citizens and our police officers,” Mahoney said.
He went on to discuss the need for jail renovations by extrapolating on the lack of special needs housing and the need to create a humane environment in the jail. Currently, the electronically locking doors occasionally fail to open, potentially endangering inmates.
Adams, dismissing this point altogether, spoke of state violence and structural racism as the main issue to the sound of cheers from members and supporters of YGB. She and Rodriguez wore “Free the 350” T-shirts, referring to the number of inmates they want released to more proportionately reflect the number of blacks in the community.
“We need human rights solutions to bring us out of those human rights [issues] and jail is not a solution,” Adams said. “[With] the inhumane building of the jail, the sheriff is proposing renovation, I am proposing release.”
The crowd briefly responded with a chant, “All power to the people.”
Rodriguez, in his address, pushed for a movement from structural racism to racial equity.
“If Dane County is serious about racial equity ... we would release the 350, we would build the people not the jail,” Rodriguez said.
Kramer, following Adams, called for substantial change from within, through both renovation and building a healthy community. As a psychiatrist, Kramer has been able to tour the jail and remarked that current jail systems make mental illnesses worse.
“Every resident, voter, taxpayer of our county is responsible for that because we are allowing it to continue. Is that really who we are?” Kramer said.
Mahoney, in his closing statement, said the incarcerated men and women were the “forgotten” city of Madison and that Madison citizens have a responsibility to provide them with quality care.
“We as Dane County citizens living in the most progressive, forward-thinking county in the state,” Mahoney said amid a laughing crowd. “Your voice, your involvement is part of that progressive thinking … we have a moral responsibility to care for the people incarcerated.”
In Adams’ closing remarks, she pointed out the need to release inmates, leaving the crowd in a standing ovation, chanting “black lives matter” and “all power to the people.”
“We have a moral and ethical responsibility to fight for justice … to provide adequate resources to those who struggle with mental illness ... to be a great Madison not just for white people,” Adams said. “We have a moral and ethical responsibility to build the people, not the jail.”
Adams ended the debate by pointing out MPD Chief Mike Koval’s absence and challenging him to a future debate on the issue.