Earlier today, Dane County Sheriff Kalvin Barrett held a press conference to urge the Dane County Board to approve additional funding to build a new jail.
A plan to consolidate the Dane County jail was first approved in 2019, and was originally estimated to cost around $148 million. But as the price of labor and materials went up during the pandemic, that original plan would now cost an estimated $24 million more.
While several options have been proposed for the project to try and keep costs down, ultimately this Thursday’s resolution would be to continue the original plan and approve the additional $24 million.
The goal of the project is to close down the jail in the City-County Building, which was originally built in the 1950s, and consolidate other locations.
Sheriff Barrett has called the current jail facilities inhumane and quote “borderline unconstitutional.” Today, he framed the project as a step towards criminal justice reform.
“The City-County Building is doing exactly as it was designed and built to do, and that is to be harsh, inhumane, and a reactionary punishment to crime. In 2022, we have a new philosophy on criminal justice reform,” Barrett says.
The proposed jail would hold 922 beds for residents, a reduction of around 90 beds from the current City-County jail. The City-County Jail also has no medical or mental health beds, and those experiencing medical and mental health emergencies are held in the solitary confinement cells. Barrett says that the new jail would help to treat jail residents with respect.
“Criminal justice reform calls for us to focus more on mental health responses to our justice involved individuals. This consolidation project will do (that), as it will have 100% more mental health beds than we do right now. Criminal justice reform calls for appropriate medical facilities for those who are incarcerated. This consolidation project will do that, as it will have 100% more medical beds than we currently do right now. Criminal justice reform calls for programming, recreational space, and educational areas for those who are incarcerated. This jail consolidation project will have exercise and spiritual meet area in rooms for rehabilitative programming, and in-person visitation at each housing unit,” Barrett says.
The resolution to approve additional funding was passed by the Dane County Personnel and Finance Committee last week to go before the full board, but it will go without the recommendation of the committee, after it failed to receive the required votes to move forward with approval.
The vote for full approval was stopped by Supervisor Patrick Miles, who had concerns about sending the resolution with a full recommendation. He says that, while he fully supports the Jail Consolidation Project, they have to be realistic with how much they intend to borrow for the project.
“The budget amendment, it’s based on borrowing authority for $24 million, and that number is based on an estimate from construction design documents being 60% complete last August, when the County Executive had asked for that early estimate. Generally, estimates aren’t done until you’re at 95% complete because there is just too many variables to get an accurate estimate at that early point. And so, on a pragmatic side, that’s one of my issues, we’re basing that on a number that I think is going to be low,” Miles says.
Earlier this month, Dane County Board Chair Analiese Eicher called for a “reality check” ” about the many constraints facing the long-controversial project.
Dane County Supervisor Melissa Ratcliff, who brought the resolution for additional funding, says her goal for Thursday’s vote is to get people out of the City-County Jail as quickly as possible.
“The longer that members of the County Board want to continue to look at more data, and to research and study any impacts that may help reduce our jail population, the longer that people in our jail will suffer. As a friend of mine once said, it’s a state of paralysis by analysis. So we need to stop analyzing everything and start building this consolidated jail facility. We need to stop having our residents suffer,” Ratcliff says.
The full Dane County Board will vote to allow the additional funding for the project at their meeting this Thursday at 7PM, and will need to pass a 3/4 vote by the board.
Photo courtesy: Nate Wegehaupt / WORT News Team