Home Madison Dane County Board delays vote on additional funding for new jail

Dane County Board delays vote on additional funding for new jail


The years-long saga to build a new consolidated jail facility in Dane County just got two weeks longer.

The Dane County Board of Supervisors on Thursday voted 22-15 to postpone a vote on whether to authorize $24 million in additional borrowing to fund the building of a new jail to its March 3 meeting.

Proponents say the project, approved in 2019, would create a more humane facility in which to house those in custody, while opponents say building a new jail is simply a substitute for more sweeping reforms needed in the criminal justice system.

The new jail will include a mental health area as well as dedicated medical beds, and hold a maximum capacity of 922 people, about 100 fewer than the current facilities hold. That capacity is still too high for some, though, who noted that the current plan was approved before the COVID-19 pandemic forced a dramatic reduction in population. Many have said that proves a reduced population is possible.

The proposal approved in 2019 after years of debate would cost about $150 million. The resolution before the board last night said “recent market changes” had increased the projected cost, requiring an additional $24 million to be allocated.

Supervisor Andrew Shauer moved to postpone the vote, arguing that the additional time would allow supervisors to reach compromise on new parameters for the jail project.

“I’m on the side of the project we passed being completed, and then later converting any bed space we believe to be unnecessary to programming space as soon as we see a sustained consistent drop in the jail population. However, it seems that there are not (enough) votes here tonight to do that,” he said. “This project has to work with the goals in mind of continued action on mental health facilities and continued efforts to keep people out of the criminal justice system who shouldn’t be there in the first place. But we can’t think that this public works project is going to be the mechanism through which we can solve every problem with our criminal justice system. It’s a public works project. So what does the compromise look like? I’m not completely sure. I’ve got an idea, but I know after some conversations with a few of you (fellow supervisors) that I’ve had this week, there are people working on such a compromise and that we are closer than ever to speaking with one consensus voice. Another two weeks should do it.”

A substitute amendment offered by Michelle Doolan would still seek to approve an additional $24 million but add language requiring the Criminal Justice Council to “identify the impact of changes implemented by the Dane County criminal justice system since March 2020, due to the pandemic” and requiring the County Board and CJC to retain a consultant to perform a jail population analysis every year until 2026.

Supervisor Yogesh Chawla spoke forcefully against postponing the vote, saying the board should vote on the budget amendment as is and if it doesn’t pass, allow a new compromise resolution to be brought forward and go through the committee process.

“This is just an attempt to strong arm and lobby supervisors to make them vote a certain way,” he said. And this is being done during an election cycle, and we’ve already seen an intense effort which in many ways has gotten pretty ugly, quite frankly … this is just another two weeks to try to pressure and to try to strong arm supervisors into supporting something they’re not comfortable with.”

Earlier this week, Dane County Sheriff Kalvin Barrett spoke in favor of the budget amendment, calling the current jail “outdated, inhumane and borderline unconstitutional.” Most people who spoke at the board meeting spoke in opposition to building a new jail, citing the need for deeper criminal justice system reform.

“A budget is both a statement of priorities and values,” said Paul Sieman of the advocacy group MOSES. “While closing the sixth and seventh floors of the (City County Building) and addressing many of the deficiencies in the jail must be done, adding millions of dollars to this project would send a strong statement that Dane County does not expect much will change our community needs to see that we are confident in our ability to reform the criminal justice system and keep more people out of it.”

James Brigham, of the Dane County Sheriff’s Deputies Association, said it’s not an either/or proposition.

“I think we can do both” address needed reforms and build a new jail, Brigham said. “We need to make sure that we have programs to try to keep our jail population as absolutely low as we possibly can, and give people the opportunity to not continue to be in that cycle. We can’t rehabilitate people in the city county building jail. It’s just impossible.”

The next meeting of the Dane County Board is March 3.