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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Dane County Board rejects resolution for referendum for county jail project

“The jail is more than a perfunctory capital investment, it is an opportunity for community betterment,” District 16 Supervisor Rick Rose said
Phoenix Pham

The Dane County Board rejected the solution of a referendum that would have asked voters to give more money to the county jail project on Aug. 18.

The referendum asked residents to approve $10 million for the county jail project after recent estimates brought the approved $166 million budget up to nearly $176 million, according to WKOW.

The Black Caucus of Dane County’s Board of Supervisors released their new plan for the stalled project on Aug. 2, which called for the construction of a 5-story facility with 725 beds, according to a Dane County press detail. Past plans called for six stories with 825 beds.


All but one Supervisor in attendance at the Aug. 18 meeting voted against adding a ballot referendum to the upcoming election, Rose said.

“To me, that is a new step in the right direction,” Rose said. “We know it is our place to own and resolve this matter, not our fellow residents. After all, they voted with confidence in us to represent them.”

The Dane County Jail Consolidation Project aims to replace the old cell blocks in the City County Building, decrease the total number of beds, get rid of or lessen solitary confinement and enhance housing and program spaces for medical and mental health.

Resolution 136, a central part of the plan, included a set of reforms intended to lower the jail’s population by addressing racial disparities in incarceration, including an incarceration rate for Black people that is double the national average. 

Dane County Sheriff Kalvin Barrett released a statement on Aug. 9 stating that he did not support Resolution 136. 

Resolution 136 proposes reducing the bed capacity to incentivize stakeholders to implement justice reforms,” Sheriff Barrett said in the statement. “There is no evidence to indicate stakeholders will be incentivized to implement justice reforms under the threat of building an unsafe overcapacity jail.”

According to the Dane County Black Caucus their website, however, the reduction in bed count means fewer people will be held in jail for even less time.

In an email statement to The Badger Herald, Dane County District 16 Supervisor Rick Rose said the discussion continues to rest on bed count and not the lived experience of those beds.

Too many residents are barely surviving these settings when they could thrive in beds in other facilities that would address their substance abuse and mental health issues, yet we continue to debate this matter,” Rose said.

Forty-three percent of people in state prisons have been diagnosed with a mental disorder, while 74% of people in state prisons report not having received any mental health care while incarcerated, according to Prison Policy Initiative.

According to District 8 Alderperson Juliana R. Bennett, focus need to shift toward fixing these systemic issues.

“I think the problem is they are not investing as much into mental health resources or just resources and programming in general for people that are incarcerated, so I think that is why some community members have been upset about it,” Bennett said.

Calls for updates to the Dane County Jail have been circulating for years. In 2014, a study by Mead & Hunt and Pulitzer Bogard and Associates detailed potentially life-threatening situations, such as doors that would not open in emergencies, and inadequate exiting of inmates in case of fire.

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This is not the first time the Jail Consolidation Project has faced a setback. In February, Dane County supervisors rejected a cheaper proposal to renovate the Dane County Jail.

According to Bennett, something’s gotta give.

“It’s just crazy because this has been in the works for so long,” Bennett said. There definitely will be another proposal because they need a new jail.”

According to Bennett, some of the jail cells still have lead bars. The 2014 study also found the existence of hazardous materials such as lead paint and asbestos.  

Two of the county’s jail facilities are from the 1950s, Dane County District 16 Supervisor Rick Rose said in an email statement to The Badger Herald.

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There are other options to move the project forward. According to Tone Madison, the County Board could give consulting firm Mead & Hunt another $800,000 to complete changes to the jail design originally requested by the board, or they could approve borrowing an additional $10 million for the constantly increasing construction costs, which requires a “yes” vote from ¾ of the board.

The construction and renovation are scheduled to be completed in 2024, according to the Dane County Sheriff’s Office.

Rose said this upgrade is deeper then just funding.

“The jail is more than a perfunctory capital investment, it is an opportunity for community betterment,” District 16 Supervisor Rick Rose said.

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