The Dane County Board of Supervisors voted last Thursday on a compromise to give an additional $16 million to the Dane County Jail project instead of the originally proposed $24 million addendum to the initial over-budget proposal.
The compromise was introduced the day before the vote— something which some supervisors and community members said was too last-minute.
“This seems to be just sloppy work and a dereliction of duty at best,” District 1 Supervisor Elizabeth Doyle said at the meeting. “This is not democracy in action.”
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In addition to giving less money to the jail than originally proposed, the compromise called for reducing the jail tower from seven floors to six and removing 97 of the anticipated beds.
The compromise proposal was an attempt to get the majority of the board in support of a budget increase while also decreasing the county’s jail population, the proposal’s co-sponsor District 11 Supervisor Richelle Andrae said.
The compromise also included language directing Dane County to replace the jails’ work-release program, the Huber Center, with a human services-based alternative within three years. The original proposal would have fully closed both the Huber Center and the jail in the City-County Building, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.
Other amendments to the proposed compromise included requiring jail staff to collect and release more detailed demographic data on the jail’s inmates and forming a group of researchers to study how to reduce the number of people jailed.
While some supervisors believe the board shouldn’t be increasing the budget amid ongoing uncertainty over exactly how much the project will cost, others like Andrae are worried about the upcoming January 2023 deadline, which is when the board needs to finalize a construction contract.
District 2 Supervisor Heidi Wegleitner said this deadline does not mean the Board should rush a budget approval for a project in which the total cost is still uncertain.
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“It feels hasty and it feels like it’s not good government,” Wegleitner said at the March 3 meeting. “We need to be wise with our spending.”
Former Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney said during public comment he believes building the new jail tower is necessary for better conditions for inmates. The current jail in the City-County Building has been cited as having inhumane conditions and as “a lawsuit waiting to happen,” the Wisconsin State Journal said.
“Along with the jail project we need to do a lot of work … in advancing other projects related to criminal justice reform,” Andrae said.
View the full March 3 Board meeting here.