Last night, a review committee tasked with the construction of a new county jail received a virtual tour of what the new facility would look like.
The jail was initially approved by the County Board in 2017, with a budget of $76 million, to build four floors on top of the current Public Safety Building.
Last June, after contractors discovered that plan was structurally unsound, the Dane County Board approved an additional $72 million to the project to build a new facility. Both plans were met with vocal criticisms, like those from the Derail the Jail coalition, who argued that money should be spent on other services for incarcerated people.
But now the plan is starting to take shape. The eight-story jail, which will be built adjacent to the current Public Safety Building on Doty St., will replace two of the county’s aging correctional facilities.
According to Paul Rusk, District 12 Board Supervisor, the county has already allocated and planned for the cost of construction.
Operational costs for staff and maintenance required to keep the jail running are another matter.
“The money for borrowing for the consolidated jail has passed, so the money is there. The real challenge for the next county budget is going to be the operating part of the budget,” he said.
Earlier this month, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi instructed departments to plan to cut 2.5-5% of their annual operating budgets to account for the county’s budgetary shortfall.
But, Dane County Sheriff David Mahoney says the county will be able to fund the costs to the jail once it’s built. He says that the county has built in enough leeway in operational expenses for the new facility to account for the cost of COVID-19.
Still, Mahoney says they’ve had to cut building costs and that quotes for the new facility came in above budget, and the county is now looking for ways to trim down costs.
“Some of the numbers had originally come in higher than expected, so we have been shaving dollars out of the facility in an effort to stay on budget,” he said. “What we look at is whether we use prefab cell blocks, whether we use one manufacturer versus another and the cost to abide by current codes. Some of those costs were higher than expected when they came in.”
In March, the Dane County Jail released about 200 inmates as a preventative measure to reduce community spread in its facilities. Despite that and other preventative measures, the jail has had 38 confirmed inmate cases of COVID-19 since March.
Mahoney says that the surge in cases is straining the jail’s medical facilities. He says increased medical treatment capabilities is one of the biggest goals for the new correctional facility.
“Those within our facilities are forced to quarantine in the limited proper housing we have; specifically, people ended up quarantined in solitary confinement cells, which was never the intended use of those facilities,” he said. ‘The whole mindset of how corrections were carried out in 1953 has dramatically evolved…If you look at the old Alcatraz movies, that’s what the city county building is. It was designed to confine, constrict and carry out power and control.”
In yesterday’s Committee meeting, committee member Ralph Jackson said that the jail’s recent issues with COVID-19 should serve as a learning experience for future plans for the new correctional facility.
“I’m very disappointed that we didn’t learn more from that experience,” he said. “The new jail medical facility would be overwhelmed by another pandemic and I think additional thought should be given to what we ought to be doing. I think our vision is too low.”
(Photo c/o WORT News)