Dane County Public Safety Building jail hallway

Those who work in the Dane County Jail say the outdated linear-style hallway, like this one in the City County Building downtown, creates an unsafe environment for inmates and jail staff. 

Dane County could consider a third option for renovating its aging jail that would include breaking construction up into four phases.

In December, a group of consultants — Mead & Hunt, Potter Lawson and Pulitzer/Bogard and Associates — submitted two jail remodeling plans as part of a 700-page report. Under the proposed options, the portion of the jail located in the City County Building and the work-release Ferris Center would close, bringing all jail operations into a remodeled Public Safety Building in downtown Madison.

However, the hefty costs associated with the options — potentially over $165 million — prompted concern from County Executive Joe Parisi, who has considered the possibility of building a new jail at a different location, called a greenfield site.

At its Tuesday meeting, the county’s Public Protection & Judiciary meeting discussed paying the consultants $105,000 to look into a four-phase renovation option. The county spent $284,626 on jail studies in 2016 and a total of $1,258,738 since 2013.

The Dane County Board approved $4.4 million in jail safety stopgap measures earlier this year.

“This is a way to get the costs down and make it more affordable over time without spending a lot of money on a greenfield site,” said Supervisor Paul Rusk, the committee chair.

He said he also hopes a four-phase plan could prevent deadlock between the Dane County Board and Parisi and allow the county to move forward on improving the jail. While he would prefer to complete the project quickly, Rusk said the county has to find a way to fix the “unacceptable” conditions at the current jail and minimize the liability they pose to the county.

“If we have to move forward in stages, we’re moving forward and we’re correcting the terrible conditions in the jail,” Rusk said.

The third option would meet the same goals as the previous two plans and address critical areas of need including reducing risk to inmates, staff and volunteers, addressing medical and mental health needs, reducing the use of solitary confinement, upgrading facilities to current codes and maximizing efficiency in operations and staffing.

Parisi's chief of staff, Josh Wescott, said the county executive's office is still looking for a full range of options that would include the cost and plan associated with fixing the immediate need on the CCB's sixth and seventh floor. 

"We’ve seen the sky is the limit proposal, and we’ve seen what an entire program would look like," Wescott said. "What would just meeting the need look like? At some critical juncture, likely sooner than later, there’s got to be some delineation made by the policy makers of what needs to be done, what we want to be done and what would be nice to do today or some day."

Wescott said the county needs to be mindful about balancing the costs associated with jail renovation with other county capital costs. He also expressed concerns over renovating the sixth and seventh City County Building floors into office space, a likely expensive proposition. 

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"The reality exists that what the county may have an ability to do is some component of phase one," Wescott said. 

In the first phase, four floors would be added to the top of the Public Safety Building in addition to programmed support space for inmates housed in the facility. It would also replace 365 beds on the sixth and seventh floor of the City-County Building jail with medical and mental health housing and programmed space, restrictive housing for the inmates of this facility and general population inmates.

During the second phase, the CCB sixth and seventh floors would be remodeled for the fully programmed sheriff’s office and relocation of the Emergency Management Office. The PSB’s second floor would be remodeled for male and female housing and the vacated areas on the first floor would be remodeled for expanded services.

Some general population housing would be added to the CCB floors to allow inmates at the Ferris Center to move to the PSB, allowing the center to close.

The last two phases of the third option would include an addition constructed next to the PSB for additional housing and programming space and remodeling the PSB’s third and fourth floors.

The resolution to study a third option will likely be introduced at Thursday’s Board meeting, Rusk said.

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Abigail Becker joined The Capital Times in 2016, where she primarily covers city and county government. She previously worked for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and the Wisconsin State Journal.