Public safety is on the ballot April 4
Come Spring, Dane County voters could be asked to vote for public safety three times:
• For a new jail addition to replace the Alcatraz-style original jail;
• A law and order supreme court justice;
• Allowing judges to consider the severity of the crime when they set bail.
It is doubtful the Dane County Board of Supervisors will muster the three-fourths necessary to reallocate $13.5 million from unused projects to replace the antiquated old jail space atop the City-County Building. (The proposal.) Supervisors vote Thursday 01-19-23 but a 19-18 majority defeated a different jail budget amendment in November. More likely to survive Thursday is a referendum question put to voters on the April 4 non-partisan ballot. It needs only a majority vote.
Due to cost over-runs caused by the county’s dithering, the $13.5 million is needed to augment the $66 million already authorized for a seven-story tower next to the Public Safety Building completed in 1994.
On Tuesday, Sheriff Kalvin Barrett and his three predecessors renewed their bid for the jail addition. Even with the addition, total inmate space would be reduced to 922 from 1,013, due to the closure of the top two floors of the original City-County jail.
“The Dane County Board has failed to put the safety of everyone in the Dane County Jail as their top priority. Certain members of the Board have shown a lack of empathy and comprehension of the research and evidence leading to intentional delay tactics that places lives at risk and is irresponsible with taxpayer’s dollars. Their lack of action and delays, as elected officials, forces us to move forward with a referendum. I have faith the people of Dane County will vote in support of humanity and better treatment for one of our most vulnerable populations.”— Sheriff Kalvin Barrett, Democrat
These are the 19 supervisors (find yours here) who failed to put safety first in November when they voted to shrink the jail due to racial “equity” — a resolution vetoed by the county executive:
ANDRAE, BARE, CASTILLO, CHAWLA, DOYLE, ERICKSON, GRAY, HUELSEMANN, HYNES, KIGEYA, MILES, PELLEBON, RITT, ROSE, SMITH, WEGLEITNER, WRIGHT, XISTRIS-SONGPANYA and YANG — 19
Here are the 18 responsible supervisors (find yours here) who voted for a realistic jail:
BOLLIG, COLLINS, DOOLAN, DOWNING, EICHER, ENGELBERGER, GLAZER, HATCHER, JOERS, KIEFER, McCARVILLE, MCGINNITY, PALM, RIPP, RATCLIFF, SCHAUER, VELDRAN and WEIGAND — 18.
Republican state legislators are preparing a statewide constitutional amendment allowing judges to to assess the severity of the crime and the potential to reoffend while out on bail. Right now, judges technically are allowed only to consider likelihood to show up for trial. The State Senate approved the measure Tuesday 01-17-23, sending it to the voters of Wisconsin. Gov. Tony Evers cannot veto. (As a bonus to lure conservative voters, the ballot will include a statewide advisory referendum on whether childless, able-bodied adults should have to seek work to qualify for public assistance.)
Progressives want to eliminate cash bail entirely, based on economic and racial identity grounds. Ironically, the Republican proposal takes a small step that way by potentially eliminating bail entirely for wealthy defendants, based on the circumstances of the crime.
Which does not explain why Dane County judges seem to ignore even that stricture. Consider Maurice M. Chandler. He went barreling down Mineral Point Road just east of the Madison Memorial high school campus on 09-12-20 when he crashed into a car driven by Anthony Chung, killing the Georgetown University student and seriously injuring his fiancee. Chandler, then 18, already had seven open felony and misdemeanor cases and had jumped bail seven times. That night Chandler was high on marijuana in a vehicle likely stolen; he was armed with a handgun. (More here.)
We could cite more cases.
By reputation, Circuit Judge Everett Mitchell is one of the more lenient judges even in defendant-friendly Dane County. He is running a state Supreme Court seat left open by the retirement of Justice Patience Roggensack, a conservative on a court they dominate by a 4 to 3 margin. Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasiewicz is the other liberal aspirant.
Those two are balanced by two conservatives on the ballot: former state Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly and Waukesha County Judge Jennifer Dorow. She made a name for herself for deftly handling the disruptive defendant who mowed down Christmas 2021 paraders in Waukesha. Ironically, Darrell Brooks, convicted in the case, was out on bail from Milwaukee County when he killed six and injured 60 paraders.
Blaska’s Bottom Line: Democrats put a non-binding resolution on the Dane County ballot in the last election, which may have spurred Democrats rack up even bigger numbers to re-elect Tony Evers as governor. This time around, jail and bail could help the conservative justice candidate who survives the February 21 primary dampen Dane County’s enthusiasm for the liberal candidate.