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Dave Mahoney

Dave Mahoney, Dane County Sheriff, speaks during a forum in Madison in January.

Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney said Wednesday he doesn’t “hold out hope” after urging President Donald Trump on Tuesday to provide federal help to deal with the opioid epidemic and mental illness among jail inmates.

Mahoney met with the president at the White House as part of a delegation from the National Sheriffs’ Association, which was holding its winter conference in the nation’s capital. Mahoney serves on the group’s executive committee.

He said he told Trump that if he’s really interested in improving criminal justice, help with the “things that really affect people” is key.

Medicaid and other health insurance plans don’t cover people once they enter the jail, meaning his office is responsible for paying for care that can include thousands of dollars in psychotropic medications if the inmates are mentally ill, Mahoney said, and the lack of jail facilities able to handle mentally ill inmates can mean keeping them in “housing that borders on civil rights and human rights violations.”

Mentally ill inmates are an “issue that every sheriff is saying is impacting them,” he said.

Trump, though, remained focused on building a border wall between Mexico and the United States and cracking down on illegal immigration, Mahoney said, something he said some border-state sheriffs are sympathetic to if it means limiting the amount of illegal drugs coming into the country.

“In this administration, immigration is one of the most spoken-about priorities,” Mahoney said.

But in places such as Dane County, “flamboyant rhetoric” about deporting those without legal residency can make communities less safe because undocumented victims fear they’ll be sent back to their home countries if they talk to police, he said.

In an email prior to Tuesday’s meeting, White House Director of Regional Communications Vanessa Morrone said the president was meeting with the sheriffs group “to discuss the positive changes resulting from this Administration’s policies.

“Through ongoing partnerships with local law enforcement, this Administration is protecting families and communities from drugs and violence by putting the safety and security of the American people first,” she said.

A Justice Department official did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Mahoney’s description of the meeting.