The Dane County Jail began to move residents out of the jail and into other county jails today, the start of a project to close the east-wing aging jail on the 7th floor of the City-County Building.
Dane County Sheriff Kalvin Barrett says that over the next week, 65 individuals incarcerated in the Dane County jail are headed to jails in three counties: Iowa, Rock, and Oneida. He says the move is unavoidable because the jail is deteriorating.
“Safety and security are number one, and with the conditions of the now nearly 70 year old jail, and with the failing of locking mechanisms and exposure to lead, and everything else that’s going on, we’ve made the decision to place our residents in a safer facility that is outside of the county,” Barrett says.
That announcement from Sheriff Barrett came just hours before a group of Dane County Supervisors unveiled a new proposal to build a smaller jail.
The group, known as the Dane County Black Caucus, is a group of Black and Black-Ally Supervisors currently sitting on the Dane County Board. They include district 15’s April Kigeya, district 33’s Dana Pellebon, district 14’s Anthony Gray, and district 17’s Jacob Wright.
Kigeya says that the new plan will bring change to the criminal justice system here in Dane County.
“Ultimately our goal is to reduce the headcount in the jail. Our plan enables us to do so without having to spend any more of the taxpayer’s money, so not having to ask for the additional $10 million that was previously proposed,” Kigeya says.
Facing rising costs of the project from inflation, the Dane County Board has struggled to agree on how much they’re willing to spend on the project to build a new jail.
After the price tag rose twice this spring, the Board declined to tack on another $10 million needed to the $165 million project. Unable to reach consensus, the issue is scheduled to appear on the ballot in November as a ballot referendum.
But today’s new proposal would not only eliminate the need for that referendum. And it would, supervisors say, bringing the price tag below the $165 million approved in March.
The Black Caucus plan would bring the jail down to just 5 stories, one less than the current plan. It would hold only 725 beds, about 100 less than the current plan, and it would eliminate some medical beds in the facility.
The new proposal also contains policy initiatives to reduce the population of the jail.
Those reforms include a weekend court pilot program to process court hearings over the weekend, reforms to the bail system, not arresting people who report crimes who have an outstanding warrant, and limiting the number of federal prisoners incarcerated in the Dane County Jail.
Here’s Supervisor Kigeya on those reforms:
“There are a lot of people who are in jail that just don’t need to be there, whether they’re in jail because they can’t afford the cash bail, or whether they’re in there on probation or parole holds. So we hope to eliminate a lot of those things to get folks out of the jail. We do understand that it is inhumane, a new jail definitely needs to be made, we aren’t against that at all. It just doesn’t need to be as big as they have proposed,” Kigeya says.
According to a consultant report , Dane County arrests and incarcerates Black folk at more than double the national average. Additionally, around 1.4% of the county’s Black population is incarcerated at any given time.
Meanwhile, the county incarcerates white folk at less than half the national average.
Dana Pellebon says the community often talks the talk, but now Madison needs to walk the walk.
“We can no longer express this with words, we need to actually enact ideas that actually move these disparities forward to not affect Black folks in the same way that they have for decades here in Madison,” Pellebon says.
The announcement of the new jail came on the same day as the jail announced the moving of residents to other counties, but April Kigeya says that she was unaware of the jail’s plans.
“We had no real idea that he was even thinking of that. It’s also frustrating because I don’t think he even has the full authority to do that, to move people out and shut down a portion of the jail, and incur a lot of money in transportation costs without our authority. That’s another matter that we are going to be looking into,” Kigeya says.
Sheriff Kalvin Barrett says that moving jail residents is a standard procedure, and one that he has full authority to carry out. Additionally, he says that the timing was a coincidence, and that he informed county board president Patrick Miles of the plan yesterday.
Miles did confirm that he was made aware of the plan yesterday, but says that he too asked Barrett if the move was related to the plans for the new jail.
“I had a meeting with the Black Caucus last Friday, and asked staff to attend that meeting to help provide any assistance to get their resolution complete so we could get that introduced. The sheriff was present at the meeting, (and) didn’t say anything about this coming up at that time. So when he and I spoke yesterday I did raise the concern of, coming on the heels of that meeting, and the Black Caucus started circulating their resolution, right on the heels of that he’s making this announcement. He indicated that this was in the works, and takes several weeks to make these arrangements with other counties, that it isn’t something that he did spur of the moment,” Miles says.
And while Sheriff Barrett says that he applauds the Black Caucus’ efforts, he is skeptical about a smaller jail.
“…as well as the proposed changes in the size of the facility for cost saving, we are going to lose that in shipping costs. I think that it’s important for us to look at all of the good things that the resolution proposes and do that in collaboration with a new safe and rehabilitative facility, and not in place of,” Barrett says.
The proposal is headed to a joint meeting between the Public Protection and Judiciary Committee and the Public Works Committee next week. It’s slated to go before the full board on August 18th.
Photo courtesy: Nate Wegehaupt / WORT Flickr