The project aims to replace outdated structures, offer appropriate mental and medical health services and provide more common spaces, ultimately improving conditions for inmates, according to a project report by the Dane County Sheriff’s Office.
The resolution to move forward with the project and reduce its budget passed in a 29-7 vote after ongoing complexities regarding the project’s budget, according to the City of Madison.
This plan was initially approved in 2019, with construction projected to begin shortly thereafter, according to WORT Radio. But effects of the COVID-19 pandemic tampered with the project’s timeline — increased labor and material costs made the estimated cost of the project $148 million, according to WORT Radio.
To address concerns with the high cost of the project, several resolutions have been proposed to the Board of Supervisors. In February, the board rejected a proposal that made the project cheaper.
The compromise resolution passed in March reduced the budget, however, it reduced the project from seven floors to six and removed 97 of the anticipated beds, according to the City of Madison.
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Officials have discussed renovating the jail since the 1990s, according to Capital Times. It’s expected to be the most expensive public works project in county history, according to the article.
District 8 Supervisor Carousel Bayrd has been advocating for the jail project since taking office in 2006, according to the Cap Times. Bayrd, who helped write the proposal, said the additional funding will help the county to take action in terms of criminal justice reform.
“We’ve conditioned the money on making some criminal justice reforms because the space is not what we need anymore,” Bayrd said.
Achieving criminal and racial justice lies at the center of reforming the criminal justice system, Bayrd said.
But it’s a flawed system, according to Co-Director of the Criminal Justice Reform sector of the UW Social Justice Hub Clarence Harley.
“The system ties in very closely with racial inequality, income inequality and educational inequality,” Harley said. “All of that is very important to understanding the criminal justice failures as a whole and this unending cycle.”
One important area where the criminal justice system consistently fails is rehabilitation, Harley said. Cyclical crime has been labeled as the intergenerational transmission of crime, according to a study published in PLOS ONE. The study found children of convicted parents also might have a higher risk of becomes offenders.
Because of these systematic failures, individuals sometimes become caught in a cycle of crime that affects multiple generations, Harley said.
“The rehabilitation goal of the criminal justice system is one of the biggest failures,” Harley said. “People go back out into the world with nothing.”
To limit these problems, the passed resolution allocates money to further rehabilitation initiatives for individuals at the Dane County Jail. The jail’s current work-release program will be replaced with a human-services based alternative, providing individuals with skills and experience that will help them become established following their sentence, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.
Dane County’s incarceration rate per 1,000 reported crimes is 58, while the US rate is 83, according to a study done by the JFA Institute. This means Dane County’s incarceration rates are below the national rates, according to the study.
The JFA Institute study also found that the two largest factors contributing to the jail’s population are people who have been sentenced to jail after a period of pretrial detention and people who are in the process of being transferred to another correctional facility like state prisons.
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The resolution will eliminate 97 of the anticipated beds available in the new jail, further reducing the jail’s population, according to the Cap Times. This reduction could end up contributing to criminal justice reform goals, Harley said.
But Dane County criminal justice reform will require efforts in other areas too, Harley said.
To substantively change the criminal justice system, Harley said individual systems must remain focused on specific goals and how to achieve them. One important goal is to spread awareness about criminal justice issues, which is a main objective of the Social Justice Hub on the UW campus.
“The purpose of our team on campus is just to spread awareness of criminal justice issues in the Madison area and abroad,” Harley said. “We do this by having speakers come in and interacting one-on-one with inmates themselves through a national pen-pal program.”
The Dane County Jail Consolidation Project has an upcoming January 2023 deadline, at which point the board must finalize a construction contract, according to the Dane County Sherriff’s office.