“It’s easier to build strong children than fix broken men.”

 

That was the quote Diane Ballweg recited from American abolitionist Frederick Douglass as she led off her talk on jail bail and incarceration during the July 14 Waunakee Rotary meeting, declaring the United States’ prison system “is a mess.”

Today in the United States, prisons house more people with serious mental health issues than mental institutions, Diane said, noting that one suicide occurs every 12 minutes. 

In Dane County, the system has resulted in fewer individuals applying for law enforcement positions, she said. 

Some communities are working to address how they respond to calls for help. In Austin, Texas, when people call 911, they are given a choice of agencies needed to respond: fire, police EMS or mental health counselors. That’s resulted in a decrease in calls police respond to now. 

The number of people incarcerated in U.S. prisons has grown over the years, Diane said, from 300,000 in 1972 to 2.3 million in 2022. Diane said one of four Black boys will end up incarcerated. The number of women in prisons has also grown, she said. 

Jails, particularly in Los Angeles and Chicago's Cook County Jail, are now the country’s largest mental health institutions. 

Here in Dane County, the Sheriff’s Office is planning to build a new jail to replace parts of the old facility that are unsafe. Diane said when people are put in jail for a criminal offense, they spend the first three days in solitary confinement, 

Diane introduced Cory Marionneaux, who grew up in Chicago and moved to Dane County as a young man. He was all set to go to college but illness prevented him. He was arrested for being party to a crime in a robbery and incarcerated. He was then on probation when he was put in jail again on a probation violation. Cory said he lost value in himself and all hope for the future until he was tapped to lead a cognitive group intervention program with 80 inmates. 

Today, he operates two nonprofits. He is now starting a youth baseball league for Black kids that will offer free transportation and uniforms.

“I had to go through the process of finding value in myself again,” Cory said.

 

******

 

Guests: Betty Mansfield, guest of Carol Bleifield; Diane Ballweg and and Corey Marionneax, guests of the club. 

  

Visiting Rotarians: None. 

 

Birthdays: July 21, Travis Heiser; July 25, Jim Schmitz; July 26, Erick Plumb.

 

Anniversaries: None


Greeters: July 21, Linda Olson and Danny Paul; July 28, Ken Pesik and Nick Petrulis.


 
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