Amid intense protest, the Dane County Board of Supervisors voted Monday night to proceed with plans to consolidate jail operations in a new $76 million facility.
County Executive Joe Parisi included in his October budget introduction plans for a $76 million prison renovation. Amendments to Parisi’s budget were debated by the board at Monday’s meeting.
Under the plans introduced in Parisi’s budget, jail operations in Dane County would be consolidated under one building. Currently, county jail operations are split among the sixth and seventh floors of the City-County Building and the Ferris Center.
Supporters of the new jail said the poor conditions at the current facility within the City-County Building have mandated the construction of a new facility.
Sup. Maureen McCarville, District 22, said the poor conditions of the current jail open the county up to potentially expensive lawsuits and do not meet legally-mandated standards.
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“That antiquated jail is unsafe,” McCarville said. “It contains asbestos, lead, and outdated technology that routinely does not work and causes people to be trapped in their cells until deputies can find a solution to get the doors open.”
Other supervisors pointed to the expanded medical and mental health services which would be included for inmates in the new jail as other reasons for their support.
Sup. Ronn Ferrell, District 15, called the construction of a new jail and the services it would offer a “win-win.”
“The new jail facility will have space and facility to give people that are in there the help they need — help to get them out of the jail, and more importantly, help to keep them out of the jail,” Ferrell said. “This is a win-win.”
Opponents of the new jail, however, said the massive expenses of the project and the adverse implications it would have for communities of color make it an inappropriate use of funds.
Sup. Heidi Wegleitner, District 2, introduced an amendment removing the $76 million jail consolidation project from the executive budget.
“This is a really big deal, and I don’t think the time is right to be investing this amount of money into a broken criminal justice system,” Wegleitner said.
Wegleitner said jails are not mental health centers, and the county should invest in alternatives to jailing if it is serious about providing mental health services to individuals who need it.
Other opponents of the jail pointed to the disproportionate implications the jail’s construction would have on communities of color in Dane County.
Sup. Carousel Bayrd, District 8, said the new jail would be representative of the wider criminal justice system, something which she described as racist.
“The criminal justice system is racist,” Bayrd said. “The jail is an instrumentality of that criminal justice system, so it is an instrumentality of a racist system.”
These sentiments were echoed by protesters at the meeting, who disrupted proceedings several times and ultimately overpowered the board’s voices.
The protesters were with Derail the Jail, a coalition which seeks criminal justice reform and advocated against the construction of a new jail.
Chants of “Derail the Jail” and “Black Lives Matter,” among others, were heard throughout the meeting, both inside the board’s chamber and outside in front of the City-County Building. Dane County Board Chair Sharon Corrigan was repeatedly ignored by protesters as she asked them to step out of the chamber if they wished to protest.
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The board’s members were ultimately forced to vote with a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down,” as their voices could not be heard over the chants of the protesters.
Despite these protests, the board ultimately voted to proceed with the construction of a new, consolidated jail facility as introduced in Parisi’s budget. Amendments both to remove and expand the the existing jail construction proposal were rejected by the board at Monday’s meeting.
Shouts of “shame” were hurled at board members as they exited the chamber following Monday’s vote. Protests continued in the chamber after the meeting concluded.