Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney issued a plea to the Board of Supervisors Thursday to make a decision about the aging jail that he said is putting the lives of inmates and staff in jeopardy.
Dane County leaders will be tasked with choosing one of four options to renovate the Dane County Jail on order to consolidate all three current jail facilities and address pressing safety risks.
“In Dane County, we have high values even when we incarcerate our neighbors,” Mahoney said at a committee of the whole meeting of the County Board. “We can only do that if we change the way in which we house people in our jails.”
This was not the first time Mahoney stood before county leaders advocating to consolidate the county’s three jail facilities into one. For a majority of the supervisors, it will be not be the first time they vote on a massive capital project to renovate the Dane County Jail.
“When we have to pass this each time, it becomes more and more difficult,” Supervisor Andrew Schauer, District 21, said.
Dane County approved a $76 million plan in the 2018 budget that would have brought all jail operations into an expanded Public Safety Building. However, last October, the county learned that plan was not viable because the building could not support the additional weight from adding floors.
The county then moved forward with building a tower next to the Public Safety Building in a parking lot facing West Wilson Street. When the cost of that plan was estimated at $148 million, more than twice the amount originally budgeted, the county pursued a study of three additional options.
David Way, manager of consultant Mead & Hunt’s engineering department, briefed supervisors on all four options and took questions from the board Thursday. The three additional options, which would cost between $161.1 million and $220.4 million, include the following:
- Renovating the sixth and seventh floors of the City-County Building and the Public Safety Building while also replacing the Huber Center at a new “greenfield" site, or underdeveloped land that is eyed for urban development projects — $161.1 million.
- Renovating the Public Safety Building and using it to house work-release and minimum security inmates, repurposing the City-County Building, building a new facility on a greenfield site that would house maximum and medium security inmates and provide medical, mental health and rehabilitation services — $164.5 million.
- Consolidating all jail operations into a new site. The county could vacate the City-County Building jail, Huber Center and the Public Safety Building — $220.4 million.
Charles Hicklin, county chief financial officer and controller, estimated that the county could spend about $220 million after paying the total principal and interest of a $148 million capital project over a 20-year period. This would add an estimated $50 in taxes to the average home in Madison.
Changes to the jail are needed to address significant threats to the welfare of inmates and staff who work in the jail. In December 2016, consultants recommended closing the sixth and seventh floors of the City-County Building with “due haste” because of the dangers they pose to both inmates and staff.
“I don’t think today that the environment meets our values. We need to make a decision to move forward on one of our four options,” Mahoney said. “If not, we need to change our value system to say we are OK with what we have today.”
All four options would decrease the number of jail beds from 1,013 to 922. Chief Deputy Jeff Hook said recent population projections show 922 beds is suitable if the county continues supporting jail diversion programs.
Mahoney underscored the importance of the county’s criminal justice reform work in pursuing a jail with fewer beds.
“It is going to require every one of us in the criminal justice partnership to do our part to look for ways to divert individuals from the criminal justice system and specifically from jail,” Mahoney said.
Since the Board of Supervisors first voted on the jail project, seven new elected officials joined the board. Three seats are currently vacant with a special election scheduled for June 4.
Supervisor Analiese Eicher, District 3, said new supervisors, including herself, were not expecting to take another vote on the major capital project. She agreed with the board’s action in the 2018 budget and thinks the south tower option makes sense.
“At the end of this, our goal is a smaller jail, a safer jail and a jail that is more in line with jail reduction strategies that allow us to engage in best practices,” Eicher said.
Though he campaigned after the board first voted on the jail project, Supervisor Yogesh Chawla, District 6, vocally opposed the plan. Chawla feels the county needs more information, such as the results of a mental health study, before proceeding with a decision.
“We’re really making critical decisions with incomplete information and the big question I think we need to ask the community is do we want to take a $150 million risk without all the information in front of us?”
When the board first voted, four supervisors voted against the project. Two of those supervisors — Heidi Wegleitner, District 2, and Richard Kilmer, District 4 — remain on the board.
To move forward, the county will have to vote on a budget resolution, which requires a two-thirds majority vote.