Concerns about awarding a contract to a consultant without bidding caused a key county committee to delay a decision on a resolution intended to improve jail safety and study ways to decrease racial disparities.
Dozens gathered inside a crowded county meeting room Monday night as the Dane County Personnel and Finance Committee heard public testimony on the revised resolution.
The latest draft of the resolution establishes a variety of advisory work groups on issues like alternatives to incarceration, length of incarceration and solitary confinement that would inform county budget decisions. It would also authorize a contract with consultant Mead & Hunt to identify emergency and serious safety issues with the Dane County Jail and outline the costs and longevity of repairs to address them.
But concern from committee members about awarding a contract to Mead & Hunt without bidding and uncertainty over the consultant’s expertise in jails and mental health caused the committee to delay a decision until May 11.
Sup. Paul Rusk tried to quell concerns about Mead & Hunt’s expertise by explaining that the architectural and engineering firm subcontracts with criminal justice consultant Pulitzer/Bogard & Associates. But the explanation raised more questions about why the contract wasn’t bid out in the first place.
“Why we would go to an engineering consultant and have them (subcontract) to a company that specializes in this makes no sense to me,” said Sup. Cynda Solberg.
Sheriff Dave Mahoney told the committee that because Mead & Hunt did the original study when the county was considering replacing the jail, any new consultant would likely do their own study, potentially adding to the cost and delaying action.
Mahoney said safety improvements should be expedited and told the committee that two female inmates had attempted suicide by hanging from anchor points in the dated cells within the last seven days.
Sup. George Gillis was the lone committee member to vote against postponement.
“I remain super concerned about the health and well-being of people currently in the jail. I don’t believe the jail, as it currently exists, is safe, and I think the shortest fix for that is in front of us,” he said, arguing for moving forward with Mead & Hunt.