Our Story


Otto Festge was the mayor of Madison and a founding member of what was then known as the Madison Area Lutheran Council (MALC). Through his position with the City of Madison, he recognized that the Dane County Sheriff’s Office had no systematic way of obtaining clergy services during emergencies. Responding to this need, the mayor helped establish the MALC Task Force, known today as the Madison Area Jail Ministry. In 1970 the Jail Ministry asked the pastor of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church to provide voluntary chaplain services to the jail one day per week. Shortly after beginning as chaplain, both the pastor and the Board recognized that a full-time chaplain was needed. Within two years the Jail Ministry was providing the Dane County Jail with a full-time, paid chaplain serving the spiritual needs of incarcerated men as well as the jail staff. In 2002 the Jail Ministry added a second chaplain to serve the spiritual needs of incarcerated women.

The name has changed~the mission is the same

After much discussion and deliberation, and after a unanimous vote of member congregations, the name of the organization was changed to the Madison Area Jail Ministry. We will always honor the Lutheran tradition and history from which the ministry was founded and continues to operate. Our mission is almost exclusively focused on providing spiritual care within the Dane County Jail. Our current name says nothing about the work we do and we know we'd have increased exposure and support with a name that describes our work. by adding “Jail Ministry” we are identifying ourselves as a ministry specific to the men and women who are housed in the Dane County Jail.

Those we serve

People who are incarcerated

We serve men and women, brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, husbands and wives, neighbors and friends. When the Jail Ministry began, approximately 100 people were housed in the jail. Today that number has increased to over 600 spanning 3 facilities.

More than half of the men and women incarcerated in the Dane County Jail struggle with substance abuse. Alcohol is the most abused substance, though heroin and cocaine are also widely used. Many people have co-occurring addictions. The majority of people are arrested for charges related to substance abuse, including: operating while intoxicated, possession of an illegal substance, disorderly conduct, domestic abuse, fraud, and theft.


Chaplains offer support and encouragement during the incarceration of their loved one. Chaplains provide cards, stamps and children's books to incarcerated men and women to help them stay connected to their children and other loved ones. Chaplains may attend court hearings or trials and offer support.

Deputies and Jail Staff

Deputies in the jail take care of daily needs of incarcerated men and women. Additional jail staff handle the many operations that keep things working. During difficult circumstances in the jail, for example an attempted suicide, chaplains are available to counsel and pray with jail staff. They are also available to talk and pray about personal issues that people are facing outside the jail, such as death of a loved one, divorce, or spiritual crisis.

The Community

Chaplains work with community volunteers to run New Beginnings groups that prepare people for re-entry. They work with community chaplains to provide linkages to congregations and community programs. They speak and preach in Madison area congregations, civic groups, and community service agencies.