Dane Co. Black Caucus pushes for smaller jail

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 3:01 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Six months ago, in the face of rising estimates, Dane Co. supervisors approved a plan to shave an entire floor and 100 beds from the county’s proposed new jail. Now, as costs continue climbing, a group of supervisors want to see the same thing done to the revised plan.

On Tuesday, 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 the jail would hold from 825 to 725. Supervisor Dane Pellebon argued the push for so many beds “implicitly assumes that we will not address the severe racial disparities that exist in our criminal justice system today.”

According to the caucus, there would be 200 fewer people in the Dane Co. jail right now if the county’s incarceration rate were closer to the national average. Its statistics show the incarceration rate for Black individuals in Dane Co. (1,400 per 100K) is more than double the rate across the U.S. (616 per 100K). For both the white and Hispanic populations, the Dane Co. incarceration rates undercuts the national ones.

”We all want to have a safe place for persons to be if they are incarcerated,” Pellebon said. “We also want that plan to be within the price range that was given the last time that we as a county board passed the resolution.”

The website setup by the Black Caucus to lay out its proposal lists several proposals not directly related to the construction of the facility that the supervisors say will result in fewer people being locked up at any given time, allowing the further reduction in beds. Among the ideas put forth by the caucus include establishing a weekend court, arrest and bail reform, not housing so many inmates, and finding alternatives to juvenile incarceration.

”Our driving goal is to reduce the jail population, reduce the racial disparities and to cost the taxpayers less money,” she said. ”There are many of us that feel that instead of giving more money that we need to go back to the project and look at where it is that we can cut costs.”

The savings from a smaller jail would allow the county to spend more on funding and expanding community services, which could also result in fewer beds being needed, Supervisor April Kigeya contended in the Black Caucus’ statement.

Shortly before its statement came out, Dane Co. Sheriff Kalvin Barrett revealed he would close a section of the current jail and move dozens of inmates to facilities in other counties. 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.

Sheriff Barrett said he’s willing to work with the board, but jail residents would still need to go elsewhere if the facility is any smaller than his plans entail.

”Those changes and those progressive yet practical criminal justice reform efforts can be done in collaboration with a safe humane and rehabilitated facility. Not in place of,” he said. “And that’s where I think we definitely disagree.”

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.

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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