The Dane County jail system is composed of three jails: the City-County Building, the Public Safety Building and the Ferris Center work release center. The City-County Building jail, which first opened in 1954, was developed with a philosophy of warehousing inmates with no concern for adequate medical or mental health space, programming space, education space or recreation space. It is simply an outdated philosophy. The City-County Building jail has been studied numerous times and has too many issues to be considered for renovation. However, it is the only section of the jail where we can house maximum-security inmates.
In 1999, Sheriff Gary Hamblin requested $26 million to add on to the Public Safety Building. Instead, the county chose to study jail diversion programs. Many initiatives have been undertaken since that time and the numbers of inmates in the Dane County jail is significantly reduced.
In 1990, 13,296 people were booked into the Dane County Jail. The number of people booked into the jail rose through the 1990s and early 2000s, peaking in 2002 at 17,145 people. The average daily population rose continually and peaked at 1,293 in 2006, which required housing a couple hundred inmates a day out of county. Since 2006, through the work of many, the number of annual bookings dropped to 12,389 in 2018 and the average daily population was 848, with 760 of those in the jail itself.
The good work of the many diversion programs in Dane County has allowed us to plan for a smaller, consolidated jail, which will allow us to replace the dangerous and inhumane City-County Building. We cannot in good conscience continue to house people with medical and mental health issues in solitary confinement in the City-County Building jail without a plan to replace it.
We cannot continue to house people in conditions that allow their well-being to decompensate. On May 16, the Dane County Board of Supervisors recognized May as Mental Health Awareness Month. We all have a goal of reaching those in our county who fight the mental health stigma and provide support and effective treatment for those suffering mental health conditions.
On June 6, the County Board will have a substantial opportunity to provide support and treatment, as well as safe and humane housing, for those battling mental health conditions while incarcerated in our county jail. The County Board will vote on a plan to replace the 65-year-old City-County Building jail, where the conditions are unsafe and inhumane, with an annex to the Public Safety Building. The annex will create proper medical and mental health housing along with programming space to address these and other conditions. A vote in support will bring closure to multiple studies and $5 million spent studying the problem.
If the proposed vote fails to be supported by the County Board, that will be a vote to continue the very conditions the board has identified as a significant liability. We must reduce the risk to life and safety for both staff and those individuals who spend their time in solitary confinement and inhumane conditions.
I am confident our County Board will support the solution that vacates the CCB jail with due haste and provides the opportunities to begin addressing the core conditions that result in individuals being incarcerated.
Dave Mahoney is the sheriff of Dane County.
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