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Dane County Board leaves resolution to halt jail project in committee

Dane County Board leaves resolution to halt jail project in committee

Public Safety Building (copy)

The Dane County Jail is spread across three facilities: the City-County Building, Public Safety Building, seen above at 115 W. Doty St.; and the work-release Ferris Center near the Alliant Energy Center. 

The Dane County Board of Supervisors will not vote on a resolution that would halt future work on a $148 million jail project after a resolution attempting to place the legislation on the next board meeting agenda failed Thursday.  

Two county committees approved amended versions of the proposal sponsored by Supervisor Elizabeth Doyle, District 1. The resolution aims to pause the current planning and request that criminal and racial justice reforms supported by the county are considered in new planning. 

“What we have been doing isn’t working,” Doyle said. “The people of Dane County deserve a new approach and deserve for us to stand up for them.” 

The major jail project, which was first included in the 2018 budget, is now delayed several months due to financial concerns. Plans currently include constructing a new tower next to the Public Safety Building and consolidating the county’s three jail facilities into one downtown jail. 

The project includes closing part of the jail located on the sixth and seventh floors of the City-County Building and reducing the number of total beds from 1,013 to 922.  

In the Public Protection & Judiciary Committee, supervisors added language that urges the sheriff’s office and its contractors to develop options for a “smaller, flexible jail facility based on implementation of criminal justice and racial justice reforms and a reduced long-term inmate population.”

Some opponents of bringing the resolution out of the Public Works & Transportation committee, which voted to postpone it indefinitely, point to legal concerns. Carlos Pabellon, attorney for Dane County, said the original version of the resolution can’t stop work on the jail because several contracts are currently underway. Those agreements fall under the purview of the Sheriff’s Office.  

“The problem with it is it is legally questionable and written vaguely,” Supervisor Melissa Ratcliff, District 36, said. “You can’t govern with a resolution that is up for interpretation.”  

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Others believe that the resolution is not ready to be voted on yet and would like to keep the legislation in committee until the jail project design team presents adapted plans to the board. Some argue that another County Board resolution addresses criminal justice reform proposals in a more clear way than Doyle’s proposal. 

However, those in support of advancing the resolution to the Dane County Board for a vote argue that supervisors and members of the public should weigh in to the debate. Supervisor Heidi Wegleitner, District 2, said preventing the board from voting on the resolution is undemocratic. 

“We may do lots of things with the resolution but what we shouldn’t do is keep it stuck and buried in committee where there is no discussion and where the public left out of the process,” Wegleitner said. 

Along with Wegleitner, Supervisors Richard Kilmer, District 4; Teran Peterson, District 19; Mike Bare, District 32; Yogesh Chawla, District 6; Carl Chenoweth, District 35; Elizabeth Doyle, District 1; and Elena Haasl, District 5; and Anthony Gray, District 14, voted to move the resolution in front of the Dane County Board. 

If the Public Works & Transportation or Personnel & Finance committees approve the resolution, it could advance to the board for a vote. 

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