Dane County Council was unable to pass any of its three options for moving forward with the long-stalled prison consolidation project, even though it rejected a scaled-down version from prison backed by his black caucus and criminal justice reform groups.
The board weighed three options for the new jail at its Thursday night meeting: the smaller five-story jail; borrowing an additional $10 million for a six-story, roughly $166 billion prison approved in March that was several million over budget by the summer; and hold a referendum for voters in November to ask them if they support the $10 million.
Each of these possibilities failed, making it unclear what the future of the project might look like. Due to rising construction costs, the new prison continues to grow by tens of millions of dollars over its original budget. The project would consolidate the county’s correctional facilities into a new tower and public safety building and close the 1950s-style City-County Building Jail that has long been considered inhumane.
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Supervisors voted 16 to 21 against the black caucus plan. He is said to have built a prison with five floors and 725 beds. The proposal would have cut some medical beds and included calls for criminal justice reform, which included a weekend court pilot program, releasing those jailed on low cash bail and expanding alternatives to prison. incarceration of young people.
Reducing extreme racial disparities in the prison population had been a central message for supporters of the five-story plan.
As of Thursday, 53% of the prison population was black. Dane County is about 6% black, according to the U.S. Census.
Black men are arrested and charged with crimes at a much higher rate than their white counterparts, a product of inequalities in housing, education, social services and other factors. They also face inequities in the sentences they receive for the crimes.
But opponents of the five-story prison prevailed. In defending their vote, most spoke enthusiastically about the reforms proposed by the proposal, but ultimately said the county needed a larger jail to avoid overcrowding and the possibility of transferring inmates to facilities in other counties. Other opponents said they did not have enough dialogue with other actors in the justice system, such as judges, the district attorney and law enforcement, and that they had no guarantees that they would pursue reforms that would reduce racial disparities.
“We just have a disagreement on philosophy and economics, not on the intent to reduce racial disparities and the number of black and brown people incarcerated in this county,” Sup said. Andrew Schauer, 21st District, staff attorney for the Professional Police Association of Wisconsin, who was a leading voice against the five-story jail.
After that vote, supervisors failed to reach the three-quarters majority needed to green light the $10 million loan for the six-story prison. They voted 25-21.
This left the board with voter approval of the $10 million, an unprecedented move. Dane County Executive Joe Parisi and Sheriff Kalvin Barrett supported this option, but many supervisors saw it as a dead-on-arrival idea and an abdication of their responsibility to figure out the jail plan themselves. The council rejected the referendum on a vote of 2-34. Sup. Maureen McCarville, 22nd District and Tim Kiefer, 25th District, voted in favor of the referendum.
Supper. Heidi Wegleitner, 2nd District, asked if the Council could change the language of the referendum to ask voters if they support the $176 million loan for the prison, the full and true cost of the project. Bridgette Keating, the county bond attorney, said the council was not legally able to change the language of the referendum this far into the process.
Schauer floated the idea of using the county’s reserve fund, or rainy day fund, to fill the six-story jail’s funding shortfall. Wegleitner, one of the most left-leaning members of the board, called the idea “by far the worst idea I’ve ever heard” for the prison project and “frankly disgusting”, saying that those dollars could be better spent on social services. The Chairman of the Finance Committee of the Board of Directors, Sup. Elizabeth Doyle, 1st District, also pushed back against the use of the prison reserve fund.
The startling racial disparities in the Dane County Jail, twice the national average in a community consistently rated one of the best places to live in the United States, are also nowhere near being resolved after the meeting of Thursday evening.
Those racial disparities are a key driver of the prison population, the JFA Institute, a county-hired criminal justice consultant, told lawmakers. According to the JFA Institute, current projections of the future prison population, which informed the six-story prison plan, assume that these disparities will not change.
The very idea of building a new prison was anathema to some proponents of the five-story plan, who opposed all funding for prisons and advocated for reforms and strengthened social services instead of incarceration.
“None of us have a perfect solution,” Sup said. Dana Pellebon, 33rd District, who sponsored the proposal and called it a strategy to reduce harm to people of color from the criminal justice system.
“We don’t protect people by incarcerating,” she said. “We are protecting a system, a system that harms people.”
Ahead of Thursday’s meeting, a coalition of activists from criminal justice reform groups like MOSES and JustDane rallied outside the City-County Building in support of the five-story jail.
“What we’re just asking for is accountability,” said James Morgan, Peer Support Specialist for JustDane.
“Madness happens here,” Morgan said, referring to the City-County Building that towered above the group. “Death happens here. Inhumanity happens here. It’s not just about concrete and mortar. It’s about lives.”
The timeline for the prison project also remains uncertain. Gilbane Building Company, the county’s building consultant, estimated that the five-story jail would delay the project by 10 months. With the rising cost of construction, the delay could add between $6.6 million and $9.3 million to the project’s budget, still less than the $10 million the board also failed to approve on Thursday. The council spent $800,000 on a contract change to pave the way for an architectural overhaul of the six-story jail.
Greg Brockmeyer, the county’s chief administrative officer, attributed the delay to the overhaul of the building’s electrical, fire protection and plumbing systems, in addition to the overhaul of the prison’s medical accommodation.
Proponents of the five-story prison and MOSES, including Flad Architects member and former president Ralph Jackson, dispute the idea that it would take longer to build this version, especially given the shorter construction time. of a smaller building.
Ahead of jail votes, supervisors voted to change his disorderly conduct order to include intimidation and harassment of election officials and others who work on elections.
The modification of the order includes harassment and intimidation of election workers by telephone and electronic messaging such as e-mail.
Those who break the law face fines of up to $1,000. The Dane County district attorney would likely have discretion to decide whether to charge offenders outside of unincorporated areas of the county, county attorney Carlos Pabellon said.
Supper. Jeff Weigand, 20th District, was the only supervisor to vote against the ordinance change.
A survey of county city clerks found that 84% of respondents said threats against election officials had increased in recent years, with 70% saying they were at least “somewhat worried” about their safety or the safety of their staff and 78% saying they fear being harassed on the phone or at work. Fifty of the county’s 62 clerk offices responded to the survey.
“It’s a bipartisan issue. It’s not just the Democrats who are being harassed,” Sup said. Yogesh Chawla, 6th District, who sponsored the ordinance change.
“As we have seen, attacking our democracy and the voting process is now a widely accepted deliberate tactic and we must fight against that,” Chawla said.
Madison officials have proposed a similar change to their disorderly conduct ordinance.
The supervisors also unanimously confirmed the appointment of Adam Heffron as executive director of the Alliant Energy Center.
Heffron previously held executive positions for Summerfest and the Wisconsin State Fair.
He will permanently succeed Brent Kyzer-McHenry, who left the post in January after about a year and a half on the job.