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The Caring Futures Campaign

Updated: Sep 19, 2023

Where the community we want meets the city/county budget process

This year’s city and county budget processes come to us in what increasingly feels like an era of collapse. Show us a Madisonian and we’ll show you someone who is overwhelmed. To act now, in spite of feelings of fear or fatigue or cynicism, is not pie-in-the-sky activist dreaming, it’s practical. And it’s a sign of life. Working together, we must remind ourselves of what we can still create.

As we know, Madison is not, and never has been, a progressive exception to the public health disaster of racism. As a community, we continue to create some of the worst racial disparities in policing, incarceration, health outcomes, and education in the entire country. Together, we must continue to reject time-worn narratives from elected officials about why real change cannot be made. And we must do it every chance we get, for every budget cycle, for however long it takes.

We must also pierce the fiction that our governments can only help us or heed us in “good” budget years. What we want to prioritize in spending shouldn’t require a budget surplus. If anything, tight budgets also clarify our values and our understanding of what’s needed. This year, our priorities are clear: we demand investment in the health, well-being, and promise of this community, including its most vulnerable youth.

Will you join the first stage of our campaign and contact Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway [] and County Executive Joe Parisi [] while they’re preparing their operating budgets?

Messages for Mayor Rhodes-Conway

1. Increase funding to CARES, the community alternative response to emergency services, by 40%.

The CARES program, which helps prevent people who are experiencing mental health crises from being put in jail, receives about $900,000 a year. This program is popular and it works, but last year teams were only available to answer just over half of mental health-related calls and less than 10% of calls to check on someone’s welfare. The recent expansion of CARES to the weekend is an important step forward, but this critical and potentially transformative intervention is still being operated on a small scale.

We spend more than $350 million per year on our city operating budget, with roughly a quarter of that going to policing. We can and should devote more of those funds to CARES and we should significantly expand staffing, staff pay, and hours of operation. CARES is working, we need to lay the groundwork for continued expansion in the 2024 budget.

Write the mayor [] to let her know that you think we can and should shift police funding to programs that deliver help and safety to some of our most vulnerable community members.

For your convenience, a sample email can be found here.

2. Increase investment in current neighborhood centers – and invest in new programs for youth by increasing funding to youth programs by $1M.

For every $1 invested in a safe place for young people to go, the City of Madison invests over $30 into policing. We need to substantially invest in the sites that are working for our youth and we need to increase our investment in new organizations too.

When Freedom Inc published the results of their Madison’s People Budget in 2021, their report read: “Focus group participants…noted that for our youth, there are very few safe places for congregation .… we need investment in safe places for youth.”

Our young people deserve these investments. We cannot continue to spend $90 million on police but demand scarcity everywhere else. That’s a budget tradeoff that costs our young people way too much.

Write to the mayor [] to tell her that real safety begins with the love and care of our youth. Youth need our clear-eyed and open-hearted investment, not the ongoing harm of being policed.

Message for County Executive Joe Parisi

Act now on the plan put forth by the Dane County Black Caucus to uplift communities and prevent incarceration.

A recent, county-commissioned report from the JFA Institute confirmed what we already know about Dane County incarceration:

Dane County incarcerates Black people at double the national average and the over-incarceration of Black people is the primary driver of our jail population. On a given day in July 2022, about 400 jail residents were Black; if we were in line with national averages, that number would be 200.

We are extremely overdue on reducing racial disparities in our criminal justice system. We are extremely overdue on acting on the recommendations of countless commissioned reports, studies, committees, and experts. We are upholding a racist system, wringing our hands about it, and acting as if nothing can be done. Enough.

We support the demands of the Dane County Black Caucus to end racist mass incarceration in the county jail. We can do that by eliminating cash bail, stopping the practice of incarcerating children, expanding CARES (the community alternative response to emergency services) county-wide, ending the practice of arresting victims of crime for outstanding non-violent warrants, eliminating probation and parole holds, eliminating solitary confinement, and creating permanent supportive housing and recovery housing options for people who have experienced frequent incarceration, hospitalization, and homelessness.

Write to Dane County Executive Joe Parisi [] to let him know that you are watching what the county does in this next budget cycle, that you support immediate changes to this racist system, and that, above all, enough is enough.

For your convenience, a sample email can be found here.

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