Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said he supports a proposed $76 million jail renovation project and will include it in his budget to be released Monday, now that programs have been added to the plan to help inmates re-enter society and reduce recidivism.

The project would add four floors to the county Public Safety Building, 115 W. Doty St., close the portion of the jail that now occupies the top two floors of the City-County Building, which currently houses about 335 inmates, and close the Ferris Huber Center in the town of Madison, where about 70 are now housed.

But as important, Parisi said, is that his proposed budget will add programs both inside and outside the jail to help offenders transition to life on the outside, with help finding jobs and housing and help following up on substance abuse or mental health treatment.

The jail renovation would also reduce the total number of beds by 91, he said, which “illustrates our commitment to alternatives and services to avoid re-incarceration.”

The $76 million building project is about half the cost of a $150 million project initially proposed last year, and was recommended in July by the county Public Protection and Judiciary Committee. But Parisi did not jump on board immediately.

“I’ve said I would only support replacement if conditions are met,” he said.

The plan has the support of Dane County Board Chairwoman Sharon Corrigan, who said that she’s optimistic it will be well received by the board. She called the jail plan part of the county’s comprehensive approach to criminal justice, and said it would provide mental health services, space for education and other programs in the jail, and eliminate the use of solitary confinement for people with mental illnesses.

“We need a facility that doesn’t make the mental health issues worse,” she said. “We’re not just building a building, but providing the services.”

The new jail would have 64 mental health beds and 128 medical beds, to avoid putting mental health inmates into solitary confinement. The jail currently has no mental health beds.

Planning and design would happen in 2018, with construction to be complete by 2021.

Sheriff Dave Mahoney has long sought to close the jail space in the City-County Building, which he calls outdated and unsafe for inmates and staff alike. The new space in the Public Safety Building would also provide a separate space for inmates who are under 18, out of sight and sound of adult inmates, which is required by federal mandate.

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Wisconsin law defines adults for criminal charging purposes as those 17 and older. Under federal law, the age is 18. Because there currently isn’t a separate space for younger inmates, Mahoney said, they’re housed in the same facilities as the adults.

“They are most likely to be influenced by the adults,” he said, “and the most at risk in the jail.”

The new space in the Public Safety Building would also have separate space for those with medical issues and those in mental health crisis. Some with mental illness currently end up in solitary confinement, Mahoney said, which only makes their conditions worse. The new space, he said, “will allow us to virtually eliminate solitary confinement.”

The jail in the City-County Building, built in 1954 with an addition in 1985, is designed mostly in eight-person cell blocks, where inmates share a small locked-in common area. The blocks line long corridors, and because of that are out of sight of the control room where deputies are posted.

The layout, along with the multitude of metal bars that make up the cells, make suicide attempts far more common in the City-County Building, Mahoney said.

Most housing in the Public Safety Building would be in 60-person pods centered around a much larger common area, and deputies would be in the center of that and have more contact with inmates. Cells would not have bars, but instead metal-and-glass doors.

In addition to jail construction, Parisi’s budget will include $110,000 to hire a community partner for re-entry case management services, with peer support counselors to help inmates transition back into the community with help finding housing, mental health or substance abuse treatment services.

The budget will also contain $68,000 to hire someone to better coordinate the Dane County Re-Entry Team, which was created in the 2016 budget. The team is made up of staff from the Sheriff’s Office and Dane County Human Services.

The sheriff’s budget will also include $1.1 million for re-entry and diversion staff and programming. Parisi said re-entry staff in the jail will work with the team in the community to provide a “seamless handoff” as inmates leave jail.

Parisi said his budget will also include:

  • More than $1 million for “Building Bridges,” school-based teams to help children with mental health issues, funded jointly with local school districts.
  • $100,000 for a comprehensive review of local mental health resources, both publicly and privately available in Dane County, to identify gaps in services and barriers to access.
  • $100,000 to keep open Safe Haven, a transitional shelter for mentally ill homeless people.
  • $15,000 to NAMI Dane County to expand its crisis intervention training course for police, public safety and medical personnel.

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