A Dane County committee rejected on Tuesday a proposal to reduce the number of beds available in the planned addition to the jail.
The Public Protection and Judiciary Committee voted against a resolution that would call on the Sheriff’s Office to come up with a new design to remove 50 beds from the proposed seven-story addition to the Public Safety Building in Downtown Madison.
The existing design for the years-long jail consolidation project would result in 922 beds, or 91 fewer than the 1,013 beds spread across the three buildings that now make up the county’s jail system.
Sup. Richelle Andrae, 11th District, sponsored the proposal that would further decrease the number of beds to 872. Adjusting the design of the $148 million addition on the front end is a proactive step to permanently reduce the size of the jail system and wouldn’t affect the timeline for construction, she said.
“We haven’t approved contracts yet, we’re in the midst of this pandemic, we’ve got a call for revisiting racial disparities and equity issues from our constituents,” she said. “We could do more.”
Other County Board members argued taking 50 beds out of the addition could put the county in a difficult spot in the future as the population grows or pandemic-related efforts to divert people from jail expire.
“If we reduce our space too much, I have serious concerns about keeping people safe when we have another viral infection like COVID,” said Sup. Julie Schwellenbach, 20th District.
Andrae’s proposal was rejected on a 5-2 vote, with Sup. Teran Peterson, 19th District, joining Andrae.
Ultimately, the committee unanimously voted in favor of a separate resolution calling for an existing unit inside the Public Safety Building to be closed when the consolidation project is finished — potentially resulting in 50 fewer beds.
In a letter to County Board members Tuesday, Sheriff Dave Mahoney said he’s open to shuttering the unit, referred to as Housing Unit 3A, once the addition is constructed.
But he told the committee that decision is contingent on other actors within the criminal justice system and local government, such as the District Attorney’s Office, judges and the County Board, making changes that result in fewer people in jail.
Currently, inmates in the Dane County Jail are held in three buildings: the Public Safety Building, the top floors of the adjacent City-County Building and the Ferris Huber Center on the South Side. The Huber and City-County portions of the jail system are set to be closed after the addition immediately south of the Public Safety Building is complete.
The resolution to close the existing jail unit was before the County Board last month for a vote. But supervisors decided to delay a decision while the Public Protection and Judiciary Committee and Public Works and Transportation Committee weighed in on Andrae’s proposal. Public Works and Transportation also voted Tuesday unanimously in favor of the original proposal.
The full County Board is expected to vote on the issue later this month. Construction on the project could begin late this year.
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