Dane County Executive Joe Parisi announced a proposal in his 2013 operating budget that would cut funding to the Ferris Center, a minimum security jail on Rimrock Road Tuesday afternoon.
County Supervisor Paul Rusk, District 12, and chair of the Public Protection and Judiciary Committee, said the county has proposed to move the current inmates, citing expansion proposals for the Alliant Energy Center, which lies adjacent to the Ferris Center.
Rusk said the Alliant Center needs more space. Long-term plans include the construction of a small hotel associated with the center.
Rusk also noted the center is in need of a more efficient system, an issue that would be addressed by moving current inmates to a different location.
“Inmates would be coordinated in one place with all the services that help people get back on their feet,” he said.
Rusk said the inmates’ future is uncertain now, but a special committee discusses plans on a regular basis. He said he estimates the closure of the Ferris Center some time in 2014.
Rusk said some of the inmates may be placed on electronic tracking, while others may be transferred to the medium security jail located in the Public Safety Building. The medical examiner and emergency management are slated to leave the building as a stipulation in Parisi’s budget plan, a move that would open up space to accommodate the influx of inmates from the Ferris Center, Rusk said.
A major goal of the move would be to replace the Ferris Center with a more coordinated system, according to Rusk.
Elise Schaffer, spokesperson for the Dane County Sheriff’s Office, said there are currently no definite plans to close the Ferris Center. She added the sheriff’s office is performing space studies, which may lead to the expansion of the jail space in the Public Safety Building.
Schaffer noted the proposed inmate move would save money in the long run and use space more efficiently.
The Ferris Center currently holds 70 inmates, while the Public Safety Building holds 395 inmates.
The move would not affect Ferris Center inmates’ ability to hold jobs should they be housed in the Public Safety Building, Schaffer added.
“It’s not going to be a drastic change for [the inmates] in either direction,” she said.
Schaffer said the county is looking at the availability of a special needs space in the Public Safety Building for inmates with physical and mental health issues. She said the Public Safety Building will better accommodate the needs of inmates with special needs than the Ferris Center.
Rusk said the planning the county is doing to move the inmates will ultimately have a positive impact on Dane County.
“Whenever you can turn a life around and get somebody back on track so they are working and contributing to society— that’s a whole lot better than housing them in any kind of jail setting,” Rusk said. “Dane County has always really tried very hard to get people back on the straight and narrow.”