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Board of Supervisors Approves New Jail Amidst Protest

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The Dane County Jail is currently housed inside the City-County Building in downtown Madison.

“Shame. Shame on you!” protestors yelled late Thursday night as the Dane County Board of Supervisors voted to approve $148 million in funding for a new Dane County Jail.

The vote came at approximately 12:15 a.m. Friday morning after protestors and concerned citizens bombarded county officials and shouted down Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne.

“You don’t care about us,” one person shouted from the audience following the conclusion of the vote. For hours residents spoke directly to the Board about what the proposed new jail means to the community and, in several instances, shouted over people who were speaking.

Person after person gave heartfelt speeches and in many instances said that this jail proposal represents the wrong priorities in the community. Speakers admonished the Board of Supervisors to show as much conviction in addressing homelessness, mental health, child health care, education and affordable housing as they are in their commitment to a new facility designed for incarceration.

Supporters of the proposed jail pointed to the harsh and, frankly, inhumane conditions plaguing inmates on the old side of the Dane County Jail (the City-County Building). But many at the meeting stated emphatically that while those conditions exist, the building of a new jail at the proposed price tag shows that Dane County remains focused on using incarceration to address social and mental health issues.

The proposed new jail will be an eight-story building that is located on the current parking lot behind the Public Safety Building and would lead to the closing of the old side (the City-County Building jail) and the Ferris Center, which is used for Huber inmates who have work release.

The new Dane County Jail is expected to have mental health facilities, less segregation beds and fewer jail beds overall.

But opposition is heavy, citing the current racial climate of the city overall as well as the sky-high disproportionate minority incarceration numbers in Dane County and in Wisconsin as a whole.