Sheriff to close portion of Dane Co. jail, move inmates to other counties

The Dane Co. Black Caucus released a plan for the jail consolidation project that would slice off the sixth floor and cut the number of inmates in the jail.
Published: Aug. 2, 2022 at 7:48 AM CDT|Updated: Aug. 2, 2022 at 9:00 AM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Dozens of Dane Co. inmates will soon find themselves housed in other counties after Sheriff Kalvin Barrett made the decision to close a portion of his jail.

On Tuesday, the Sheriff’s Office revealed its plan to begin transferring inmates as it shuts down the east section of facility on the seventh floor of the City County building. In the statement announcing the move, the Sheriff’s Office noted this section is the oldest portion of the jail. Describing his decision as a difficult one, Barrett attributed it to “a lack of safe and humane jail space, along with ongoing staffing shortages.”

While some of the approximately 65 inmates affected by the decision will go to neighboring Iowa Co. and Rock Co. jails, some of them are expected to end up more than three hours away in Oneida Co., the Sheriff’s Office explained. A spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Office estimated it will cost the county roughly $60 per person per day to house their inmates in the other locations.

”We move them away from their support systems, we move them away form the courts. It’s not ideal but this is a tough decision I had to make,” Sheriff Barrett said.

Barrett said due to limited space, the current facility does not provide a place for mental health care other than solitary confinement rooms.

”If that was your sister, Mom or your spouse is that the right place for them to be?” he said. “If you ask any mental health professional, a solitary health confinement is one of the worst places to put someone going through a mental health crisis.”

The Sheriff’s Office pointed to the six-year-old Dane County Jail Update Study that recommended against extending the life of the current City County Building jail and quoted the report’s determination that the county “should work towards getting out of the building with due haste,” as part of the reasoning for closing this section of the Madison jail.

Barrett added he will continue his push to replace the entire Dane Co. jail, an ongoing effort by the sheriff and other county leaders that has recently run into opposition amid rising costs. In mid-June, Barrett was joined by County Executive Joe Parisi to push for a referendum to approve more funding for a new jail. Currently, county supervisors have signed off on spending $165.9 million for the facility; however, inflationary pressures and supply chain issues have added nearly ten million to the projected price tag.

”The unfortunate fact is there will always be some people who have to pass through our jail,” Parisi said. “We owe it to the community, those people and their families to have a safe and secure system and we don’t have that at the moment.”

Supporters of increasing the budget have run into resistance among county supervisors. They switched their tactics to push for putting the decision in front of the voters directly after determining they do not have the support of a supermajority of supervisors. Raising the amount allotted for the new facility would require the backing of three-quarters of the board. A simple majority of supervisors could pass the resolution to put the referendum on the ballot.

During the June news conference, Parisi said they would need to do so by August in order to get the question on the fall ballot. He also gave the supervisors an August 18 deadline to decide whether to approve the increase or make further cuts to the project, so county officials could determine how much the county would need to borrow this fall.

The current plan was approved in March, when supervisors added nearly twenty million to the original $148 million allotted for the jail as part of a compromise plan that would have trimmed 100 beds and an entire floor off the original proposal. In May, when Parisi revealed the revised plan would now likely cost $175.7 million, he noted that first proposal would now run $190 million to complete.

To its overall staffing shortage, the Sheriff’s Office plans to offer sworn officers with other law enforcement agencies opportunities to come to Dane Co. without giving up the seniority they have already accrued with their previous department. To get up to optimal levels, the Sheriff’s Office needs to add more than 40 new deputies.

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