Dane County Board to consider plans to renovate jails

MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) -- The Dane County Board of supervisors is set to consider four proposals to renovate and consolidate county jails, but not all supervisors support the plan.

Supervisor Heidi Wegleitner is one of those board members. Wegleitner held a community meeting Monday evening, hoping to hear from people who support different options.

The four proposals before the board include combinations of renovating existing jails and adding new buildings. Wegleitner said she feels the proposals are too expensive and do not focus enough on keeping people out of jail.

"I think we should be placing an emphasis on treating people in the community and making sure they don't end up in jail to begin with," she said.

However, Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney said the county is already working to do that.

"We are already doing those programs we are already diverting people from jail on the front end," Mahoney said.

The cheapest proposal on the table, at $148 million, is almost twice as expensive as the $76 million the county had set aside for their previous plan for the jails. The plan was to build additional floors on the Public Safety Building, but that idea became impossible because of the structural issues it would cause.

Still, Sheriff Dave Mahoney said jail facilities are old and unsafe, and the new proposals add much-needed space for medical and mental health treatment.

"Many of the same issues that exist today on life and safety and the inhumanity of housing people in a 6-foot by 9-foot box, existed [40 years ago]," he said.

Dane County Board Chair Sharon Corrigan agreed. Corrigan said the county is working to divert people from the criminal justice system, but there needs to be a safer place to house inmates and get them ready to re-enter society.

"We need to be able to hold them in a safe way and to give them the kind of programming that enables them to go out into the community and be successful afterwards," Corrigan said.

Wegleitner said she thinks the county needs to consider their plans for their jail and efforts to keep people out at the same time, instead of focusing on the jails.

"Our jail plan and our behavioral health, our broader initiatives on criminal justice reform are not connected and that's why I want to bring folks together who have experience in this issue," Wegleitner said.

She hopes the board will be open to taking more time to consider the issue.

The county board will hear from their consultants Thursday evening about the proposals. They will set up committee hearings and take public input over the next month.

The board is expected to make their final decision in June.