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Committees recommend “no” vote on plan to bring new jail back under budget


Two committees of the Dane County Board referred a proposal to bring the Jail Consolidation Project back under budget to the full board with the recommendation that the full board vote no.

If that happens, the board will have to approve a referendum asking to borrow and spend an additional $10 million to build a new jail as currently planned, and voters would have to approve that additional spending in November.

Resolution 136, proposed by the Black Caucus of the Dane County Board, would reduce the capacity of the new jail from 825 to 725 by reducing its height by one floor and removing a full acute care clinic. The resolution calls for additional reforms to reduce the jail population, which proponents say could be implemented while the jail is being built so that a capacity of 725 would be adequate.

The current jail population is 619 residents with 59 in transit.

Last year, the County Board approved a project to consolidate three current jail facilities into one for $150 million, then approved an additional $16 million earlier this year. In May, County Executive Joe Parisi told the board that new estimates indicate the need for another $9.8 million. In his memo, he wrote that “if the County Board and Sheriff wish to proceed with the modified jail project as the Board previously approved, it will need to add approximately $9.8 million to the project budget, or make further reductions in design or a combination of the two.”

The Black Caucus proposal would reduce the expense to fit under currently-approved expenditure levels, proponents say.

April Kigeya

Black caucus member April Kigeya said reducing racial disparities in incarceration will also reduce the overall population without releasing violent or dangerous people. Kigeya noted many people in the jail are there simply awaiting trial for nonviolent offenses and could get out by posting bail. The resolution calls for reforms to the cash bail system to remove barriers to pretrial release, especially for nonviolent offenders who haven’t yet been convicted; instituting weekend court to expedite processing; capping federal inmates at 10 percent of the population; and other measures.

“Some of our colleagues were concerned that it’s too small …  they’re saying it’s too small and the population is growing. And our argument is, yes, the population is growing, but we don’t want to grow the jail with the population, because that then basically says that we’re going to keep up with the disparities that are in the jail currently and build to accommodate for that,” Kigeya said. “What we’re saying is we need to put these reforms in place to decrease the disparities, which in turn will decrease the numbers. It was very frustrating because (committee members) did not understand that … they think that we (only) want to build a smaller jail, or they’re saying that they should build a bigger jail and then fix the disparities and do programs after that. We could actually do both, we could build a small jail – the jail’s going to take about three to four years to be built. In that time, we could put these reforms in place to decrease the number of people that even need to be in jail, because that’s the whole point to begin with.”

Kigeya said some committee members also expressed concern about the removal of the acute care clinic, but Kigeya said the Black Caucus proposal would allow for medical care as needed.

“In our mind, if you’re very sick and need hospital care, you should be in the hospital, not in the jail,” she said.

Kigeya acknowledged the proposal faces opposition from both sides: while some want to spend the additional $10 million for the 825-capacity jail, other County Board members are opposed to any new jail at all. Still, she’s optimistic that the full 37-member board could approve the proposal despite the committee’s recommendation.

“If you build a jail that’s gonna hold 825 people, they’re going to fill it. That’s just how it is,” she said. “We definitely have some work to do in the next week. But hopefully, we’ll be able to talk to some of our colleagues that are on the fence and really work through to hopefully get their support.”

Kigeya said she hoped the Public Protection and Judiciary Committee and the Public Works and Transportation Committee, which met jointly Thursday, would recommend approval of the resolution, but is ultimately glad they referred it to the board, even with the recommendation for denial.

“It’s not ideal, but at least we get it on the agenda and we’re able to then talk to our full board colleagues and the public can come back and hopefully gives the same testimony that they gave (Thursday) and then the full board will vote on it,” she said.

The County Board will consider the resolution at its August 18 meeting, which convenes at 7 pm at the City County Building. Kigeya said Board Chair Patrick Miles intends to vote on that resolution before the $10 million referendum, because if the Black Caucus proposal is approved, the referendum to approve additional borrowing and spending would no longer be necessary.