Dane County wants to spend $76 million on a smaller, but better jail

Part #1: Less is more?

Time to build a bigger and better county jail, right?

Homicides in Madison have already set an annual record and there’s three months left in the year. Shootings are up 75%. Kids walking to their first day of school are finding shell casings on the sidewalk.

Dane County is the fastest growing metro area in the state. Population here has grown 8.9% in the last six years, to over half a million (531,273) and we’re not done yet. Forecasters predict Dane County will be home to another 75,000 — the current population of Racine — in 20 years.

Outside of PSB

Public Safety Bldg left, CCB background right

For $76 million, Dane County is looking to add 4½ floors atop the 4-story Public Safety Building completed in 1994. The project would:

• Replace the outdated, unsafe jail dating from the mid-1950s on the 6th and 7th floors of the City County Building.

• Replace the inadequate Ferris Center mislocated on the fairgrounds and consolidate its work-release inmates into the Public Safety Building.

• Treat mental health and other issues to reduce recidivism.

• Add more capacity to the existing 1,013 beds. Oh, wait. Sorry! Strike that!

No, your Dane County Board is considering spending $76 million on a smaller jail: less capacity, fewer beds, reduced inmate count. This is your liberal-progressive-socialist county board at work.

A smaller jail for a growing county?

County Executive Joe Parisi, good Democrat that he is, proposes a capital budget for fiscal 2018 that would would actually REDUCE jail capacity by 91 beds — from 1,013 to 922. Dane County’s hired consultants Mead & Hunt recorded the limitation:

No new beds should be added to the system, as recommended by the County Board.

Those, folks, are the wages of a County Board with an overwhelming liberal-progressive-socialist membership. Of the 37 members, anywhere from 2 stalwarts to 6 (on a good day) are moderate to conservative.

The trade-off — whether it is an equal trade-off or not — is a more humane jail. One that treats mental health issues on-site. That addresses alcohol and drug dependence. That provides basic job readiness training. That employs the latest corrections practices. Those are all good things. (Blaska Stately Manor will explore those factors in the next blogge.)

Still, a smaller jail for a growing county represents a missed opportunity to County Supervisor Mike Willett of Verona. Add again that operating the renovated jail will cost $500,000 more per year. And may be less safe!

Half a loaf

County Exec Joe Parisi is recommending renovating the top two stories of the existing, five-story Public Safety Building (PSB), which houses the jail and adding four more floors atop those. (4½ floors if you count building out the existing fifth floor, which now consists of rooftop mechanical and elevator penthouses.)

That would enable the sheriff to close down the antiquated and inhumane jail on the 6th and 7th floors of the City-County Building, built in 1954. It’s linear construction more resembles Sing Sing prison than a modern jail built around inmate pods. It is also said to be rife with asbestos and lead paint. (Dylan Brogan does a good job of detailing the perils of the old jail in the Isthmus of 4-13-17.)

Phase 1 would also close the equally inadequate Ferris Huber Center on the grounds of Alliant Energy Center. Those work-release prisoners would be housed in the new jail. There would be some remodeling on the first floor of the PSB for a separate work-release entrance.

Result, 91 fewer beds.  

four addn floors and build-out of 5th

Public Safety Building would get 4½ more floors (in white) atop existing building

We The People can weigh in at a public hearing scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, October 18, in County Board chambers, Room 201 of the City County Building on Martin Luther King Drive.

Consultants hired by the county at a cost of $1 million recommended a second phase costing $24 million that would add 28 beds (upping the total to 950 but still below current capacity of 1,013) by renovating the first three floors, which would require moving the sheriff’s department and emergency management out of the Public Safety Building. That would require another $10 million or so to reconstitute the sheriff’s department (aside from the jail) somewhere else.

However, that is NOT part of the proposed 2018 budget and Supv. Mike Willett tells us “there is  no intention of ever doing it.”

More about that next.

Read through the full Mead & Hunt jail recommendation (if you’re ambitious).


About David Blaska

Madison WI
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