Home Madison Sheriff calls on county board to approve funding to build consolidated jail

Sheriff calls on county board to approve funding to build consolidated jail


Dane County Sheriff Kalvin Barrett on Monday called on the County Board to approve a $24 million increase in borrowing to finance construction of a new consolidated jail.

The County Board has already approved construction of a new jail that would decrease the total capacity from 1,013 to 922, and include both medical and mental health care facilities, both of which are largely absent from the current jail, Barrett said. The resolution before the board Thursday would authorize additional borrowing to cover a higher-than-expected price tag for the facility.

Calling the current jail “outdated, inhumane and borderline unconstitutional,” Barrett said a vote for the new jail would be a vote for criminal justice reform. He noted that the current facility was built in a different era, before landmark decisions like Brown vs. Board of Education, the case that desegregated schools.

“The City County Building (current jail location) is doing exactly what it was designed and built to do, and that is to be harsh,” he said. “That is to be inhumane and to be a reactionary punishment to crime. In 2022, we have a new philosophy of criminal justice reform. Our approach to combat crime focuses on criminal justice reform and rehabilitation of those who are incarcerated. Having a consolidated, humane facility that focuses on rehabilitation through programming life skills that are designed to ensure safe transfer for those who are incarcerated back into our community.”

Barrett said the current jail lacks any mental health facilities and the only way to provide medical care is to place residents in solitary confinement. 

He also said 97 percent of those incarcerated will eventually rejoin the community.

“With our current configuration, many are released back into the community upset, resentful, and angry after being incarcerated in an unsafe inhumane jail facility with limited programming space and solitary confinement in place of medical beds and mental health areas,” all of which can lead to repeat offenses and recidivism.

District Attorney Ismael Ozanne also spoke in favor of approving the increased spending for the new consolidated jail, arguing that crime victims would also benefit.

“Victims are not wanting people to be incarcerated just to punish them. What most victims want is to be safe in their bodies, in their homes and in their community. And second, to have some assurance that we are going to try to do something to change what occurred to them and ensure that it does not happen to them or someone else … You have heard from Sheriff Barrett, the conditions he must operate under do not help him ensure those wishes of our victims.”

Former Journey Mental Health CEO Bill Greer also spoke in favor of the funding, noting the importance of mental health care. Greer said he worked with jail residents for nearly 30 years, including many years when the jail was overcrowded.

“Whenever possible, during my tenure, we tried to divert acutely mental ill people from the jail. But for others, living in close proximity to relative strangers over extended periods of time often created mental health problems in people who were previously asymptomatic,” he said. “When that happened, we needed to respond efficiently and effectively. The shortcomings of the jail’s infrastructure often prevented us from delivering the best clinical and custodial care.”

Alison Davidson, the fiancee of Jimmie Joshua, who had his hip broken by deputies in the jail and was left alone in an isolation cell for 15 hours, said Barrett told her she could advocate for a new jail based on Joshua’s experience. Asked to clarify that on Monday, Barrett implied that a lack of medical facilities in the jail was partly to blame.

“The new facility provides us with beds and medical areas to provide better medical attention for all those within our care,” he said. Joshua required major hip surgery and spent eight days at UW Hospital. He is currently suing the County and several individual deputies in federal court.

The resolution to be voted on Thursday was recommended for approval by the public works and transportation committee, and forwarded to the county board without recommendation after a recommendation to approve failed on a 3-3 vote in the personnel and finance committee.

The measure requires a two-thirds vote of the board, meaning it would require 25 of 37 members to vote yes. The measure has 14 co-sponsors.