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Dane County Jail

Dane County Sup. Paul Rusk has proposed $4.4 million in physical safety improvements to the jail in the City-County Building. The proposed fixes are intended to mitigate the county's risk in the event of suicides, inmate sexual assaults and fire while elected officials decide how to replace the oldest portion of the jail.

A Dane County supervisor has proposed spending more than $4 million on physical improvements to the City-County Building to address jail safety problems while officials evaluate options for moving inmates out of the dated facility entirely.

Sup. Paul Rusk, chairman of the County Board’s Public Protection and Judiciary Committee, introduced a resolution Friday that includes about $4.4 million to cover design, construction and temporary inmate housing costs associated with the potential project.

Rusk’s proposal comes on the heels of a report completed this month by Mead and Hunt, Potter Lawson, and Pulitzer/Bogard and Associates that identified $3.9 million in projects to deal with the most immediate safety issues, including $600,000 to replace old and sometimes faulty locks, $250,000 to install new video surveillance cameras, $250,000 to replace fixed windows and $75,000 to install a smoke management system.

The consultants’ report was released publicly Friday alongside Rusk’s proposal. It projected the fixes would come with an additional $462,614 in costs related to design, review and permits, and another $1.3 million in operating expenses, $420,553 of which would be annually recurring.

“It should be noted that the minor changes to the CCB outlined here are merely a ‘Band-Aid’ to resolve some of the most significant problems,” the report said. “In no way should be considered a long-term solution or fix.”

The Dane County Jail is housed across three buildings: the Downtown Public Safety Building and City-County Building, which are connected by a tunnel under South Carroll Street, and the work-release Ferris Center on the South Side.

The portion in the sixth and seventh floors of the City-County Building was opened in 1954 and, for years, Sheriff Dave Mahoney has argued its layout and aging equipment pose threats to inmates and staff.

A May report from the same consultant group agreed the conditions in the jail put the county at significant risk for liability in the event of suicides, inmate sexual assaults and fire. The same report also determined it would cost more than $47 million to bring those floors up to current building code, safety standards and supervision requirements, with at least $16.5 million in recurring annual operating costs. It ultimately recommended the county abandon use of the City-County Building as a jail “with due haste.”

County officials quickly heeded the consultants’ advice and authorized the companies to create two plans to remodel the Public Safety Building to accommodate the maximum security and special needs uses that have existed in the City-County Building. In June, the county amended the agreement, paying the consultants an additional $30,590 to provide interim recommendations to make the building safer during the three to five years it could take for the county to approve and build an alternative.

“It’s difficult to spend this kind of money on a facility that we’re going to close but we recognize our liability,” Rusk said Friday. “We have an extensive report telling us how dangerous this is, so, quite frankly, it would be irresponsible to do nothing.”

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Rusk said that in the past year there have been almost 80 suicide attempts at the jail, nearly all of them occurring in the City-County Building, where obsolete bar front cells serve as anchor points for individuals to tie up.

The proposed fixes would not replace the cell doors, but would update the jail’s outdated analog surveillance cameras with a new digital system for better monitoring.

“We’re all petrified somebody is going to commit suicide up there. It’s up to deputies to come at just the right moment or the inmates to holler at just the right moment. This will help with that,” Rusk said.

The capital improvements would be paid for with $7 million set aside for jail projects in previous budgets, Rusk said.

Sup. Tim Kiefer, 25th District, said he’s not opposed to addressing safety problems in the jail, but added he is concerned about making the investment in the City-County Building the first in a series of increasingly expensive jail projects.

“I agree that doing construction work and doing safety upgrades while you have inmates living there is very difficult and very expensive, but I am still skeptical about the need to have this all go toward building a new jail that I think the community doesn’t really want,” he said.

The proposal will be considered Tuesday by the Public Protection and Judiciary Committee, which meets at 5:15 p.m. in Room 357 of the City-County Building, 210 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

If it receives a recommendation, it will move to the Personnel and Finance Committee before being considered by the full County Board.

It’s unclear whether County Executive Joe Parisi would support the proposal. He was unavailable Friday.

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