Four proposed options for the Dane County Jail would significantly reduce the use of solitary confinement and close the cell blocks in the City-County Building. 

Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney called on County Board members Thursday to approve any of four options for a new jail structure to better serve inmates rather than delaying the project longer.

Mahoney and Chief Deputy Jeff Hook, along with Mead & Hunt consultant David Wray, presented the options at an informational hearing for board members as a way to create a more ethical jail that would close what Mahoney called the outdated, dangerous and inhumane cell blocks on the top floors of the City-County Building.

“In Dane County, we have high values even when we incarcerate our neighbors,” Mahoney said. “I don’t think that today our environment meets our values.”

The four options are:

  • An eight-story tower connected to the Public Safety Building.
  • A new jail constructed at an as-yet unidentified location.
  • Renovations of the Public Safety Building and construction of a new facility.
  • Renovations of the Public Safety Building and City-County Building and construction of a new facility.

Dane County Jail options

Project comparisons Tower addition Renovate CCB, PSB* and build new Renovate PSB and build new All new construction
Total cost $148 million $161 million $164.5 million $220 million
Estimated completion Mid-2024 Early-2027 Mid-2024 Mid-2023
Total square feet 401,700 417,300 459,500 445,500
Staffed positions (FTE's) 317.7 404.6 377.7 303.3
Staffing Costs $35.7 million $45.9 million $41.4 million $34.1 million
*City-County Building, Public Safety Building
  • Controller Chuck Hicklin said that if the county pursued the tower addition — which some board members have signaled as the likely choice — and approved $148 million in borrowing over a 20-year period, the full amount paid with interest would be about $225 million.

That borrowing would cost the average homeowner in the county about $50 on their annual property tax bill, Hicklin told the State Journal.

County Board Chairwoman Sharon Corrigan, 26th District, who represents Middleton, said a resolution recommending one of the options would likely be introduced at the next board meeting May 16, with a vote on that option in June.

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All four options reduce the inmate capacity of the jail system by 91, which Hook said would require continued efforts to divert people with mental health or drug abuse problems away from jail, as well as crime prevention.

“We need everybody in the system to keep working on what they have been working on,” Hook said.

Sup. Heidi Wegleitner, 2nd District, who represents parts of Madison’s Isthmus and East Side, said she doesn’t support any of the options. Instead, she said the county should focus more on diversion options and reduce jail population even more.

“There is so much potential to reduce our jail population,” Wegleitner said. “It’s disturbing to me that we’re moving ahead at this pace.”

Wegleitner said the county should wait until a mental health study analyzing gaps in service and feasibility of a short-term mental health crisis center is completed. That report is expected to come in September.

Mahoney said the county has done enough studying of options to close the jail in the City-County Building. He said about $4 million has been spent studying improvements to the county’s jail.

The county had approved a jail consolidation plan in late 2017, which would have added four floors atop the Public Safety Building, but consultants found the building lacked the structural supports to hold more weight.

Wray said each of the new options proposed would be possible to construct and another roadblock of the same nature wouldn’t pop up.

The county has also spent about $5.7 million on safety improvements at the City-County Building’s cell blocks, Mahoney said, although those improvements are only a stop-gap until a new facility is built. Those improvements included new locking mechanisms, lighting and signing for emergency exists, video cameras and lead abatement.

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