As plans for a major renovation of the Dane County Jail move forward, county supervisors are considering a resolution recognizing the need for spiritual space.
The proposed resolution urges Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney work with his office and consultants on the jail project to ensure that space for communal spiritual practices is included in the design and construction of the renovated jail, which will consolidate the county’s three jail locations downtown.
“The goal is to make sure that we are being inclusive and wanting to make sure there is space for a broad array of activities that are included, but not limited to, faith-based activities,” said Supervisor Jenni Dye, District 33 and sponsor of the resolution.
Last year, the Dane County Board of Supervisors approved the $76 million jail renovation, which called for closing the maximum security jail on the top two floors in the City-County Building and the work-release Ferris Huber Center on the Alliant Energy Center’s campus by adding floors to the downtown Public Safety Building.
However, this fall, contractors discovered that the Public Safety Building cannot hold the weight of additional floors. Instead of building up, Dane County is moving forward with plans to construct a seven-story structure adjacent to the Public Safety Building in a parking lot along West Wilson Street.
Over the summer, local spiritual leaders expressed concern that the jail would not have a dedicated space for spiritual matters, which they argued is necessary for personal transformation within incarceration. County supervisors are working with a group of spiritual leaders, led by former jail chaplain Katharine Goray, on finalizing the resolution.
The proposed resolution, which is before the county’s Public Works & Transportation committee Tuesday, says that the spiritual activities for those who are incarcerated are important for the psycho-social, spiritual and emotional needs of inmates.
“It is important for the consolidated jail to have a space available for the practice of all spiritual traditions, as well as other personal growth programs,” such as tutoring, recovery groups and parenting, the resolution currently states. “The design of such a space should take into account the desire to be inclusive.”
The Public Works & Transportation Committee meets at 5:30 p.m. at 1919 Alliant Energy Center Way in the large conference room. The Public Protection & Judiciary committee will also vote on the resolution before it comes before the full Board of Supervisors.
Supervisor Tim Kiefer, District 25, said correctional institutions are in a unique position to provide opportunities for all types of worship because those who are incarcerated cannot freely choose where to worship.
“This is very important, given that we're in a pluralistic society, that we be respectful of all religious tradition and we give everyone the ability to worship the way that that individual person wants to do,” Kiefer said. “We have to do that that in a fairly limited amount of space.”
Sheriff's Capt. Chris Nygaard said the challenge is allocating space for all the necessary needs of a jail that do not require additional staff or transferring inmates around the building. This means that more multi-purpose space will be utilized in the renovated building.
“We don’t have the space to designate any one room for any particular cause for a certain group,” Nygaard said.
Former captain Tim Ritter said the original space study plan for the jail renovation project included dedicated space for religious services, however, the price tag came in at $160 million.