July 16, 2020
Colleen Clark-Bernhardt, CJC Coordinator, (608) 266-3022
County Board

Today Dane County officials announced that Policy Research, Inc. (PRI) will assist the county to identify the requirements of a pilot program to provide a non-law enforcement response to some mental health emergency calls involving individuals in crisis. PRI is a nationally recognized expert in behavioral health services and criminal justice. The Dane County Criminal Justice Council is a partner in the Safety and Justice Challenge, as funded by the MacArthur Foundation. Funding for the technical assistance is provided by the Safety and Justice Challenge.


A model which is gaining traction throughout the country has been used in Eugene, Oregon for over three decades. The "CAHOOTS" initiative is an emergency response with a team of medical and crisis workers for those experiencing a mental health issue, instead of a law enforcement response.  This approach relies on a medic and behavioral health professional or peer specialist to stabilize an individual and, if needed, provide transport to a facility for further de-escalation. 


PRI will assist Dane County with the identification of operational process necessary to plan for a pilot program. They will help to identify needed partnerships from local governments, criminal justice officials, and from the health care system.


"We are happy to provide technical assistance to Dane County to develop a non-law enforcement response to individuals as part of a continuum of services and supports necessary to safely meet the needs of individuals in mental health crisis," said Regina Huerter, Senior Project Associate with Policy Research, Inc. "This work is a natural outgrowth of our ongoing partnership with Dane County."


"This approach has been studied and endorsed by the Behavioral Health Subcommittee of the Criminal Justice Council," said County Executive Joe Parisi.  "We continually work to improve the effectiveness of our response to individuals in crisis in an effort to avoid incarceration.  We are fortunate to have the assistance of a national partner in this work." 


Local interest in this approach to deflect or divert individuals from unnecessary involvement in the criminal justice system is growing. At its meeting earlier this week, the Madison Common Council approved a resolution in support of the mental health first responder model and urged the County Criminal Justice Council to work with the City of Madison on a pilot project.


This initiative is one of 14 criminal justice reform actions identified by County Board Chair Analiese Eicher and Supervisor Shelia Stubbs last month.


"Building a fairer, more just community will require sustained and multi-faceted work," said Dane County Board Chair Analiese Eicher (District 3, Sun Prairie). "As local government leaders, we must listen to the community and invite partnership in solutions. The mental health first responder model would be a step forward. I believe, with the assistance of PRI, this can be a win in the next six months, to be followed by layer upon layer of additional positive action across the criminal justice system over the next one, three, and five years. However, it will take partnerships that span our local cities, communities, health care and corporations to become a reality."


The 13 member Dane County Criminal Justice Council is a collaborative body created in Dane County ordinance to collaborate and improve public safety, racial equity and data driven decisions.  For more information please visit cjc.countyofdane.com


PRI is a national leader in behavioral health technical assistance provision and has served as the catalyst for systems change. They provide technical assistance to guide policy and practice change. PRI assists with the implementation of evidence-based treatment and support services for people with behavioral health and/or addiction disorders, particularly those who have experienced homelessness or who have been in contact with the criminal or juvenile justice systems.