Heidi Wegleitner

Dane County Sup. Heidi Wegleitner, District 2, speaks to a crowd protesting funding for a major jail renovation project Monday.


A $76 million proposal to renovate Dane County’s jail system remains unchanged after budget amendments to increase funding were not approved by a county committee Monday.

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi included the funding in his proposed 2018 budget for the first phase of a jail renovation project put forward by consultants that would consolidate the county’s three jail facilities under one roof.

Supervisor Mike Willett, District 32, sponsored budget changes that would have allocated an additional $23.86 million to complete the consultants’ second phase of the renovation.

Willett said the purpose of the amendment, which ultimately failed because it was not seconded by the Public Protection & Judiciary Committee, was to finish the consultants’ report and “build the space, not fill the space.”

“We as a committee need to plan 20 years in the future and what we need for space,” Willett said.

A second amendment sponsored by Willet, which the committee rejected, would have added another $12 million to remodel the sixth and seventh floors of the City-County Building jail facility into new sheriff’s offices as soon as possible after the jail consolidation project is complete.

Other committee members agreed that the City-County Building jail floors will need to be remodeled but disagreed with Willet’s timing. That portion of the jail has been most criticized for its solitary confinement cells and deteriorating infrastructure.

“I would like to tear out sixth and seventh floors, but I don’t want to put another $12 million in the budget to do it right now,” Supervisor Dorothy Krause, District 27, said.

Under the multi-phase jail renovation proposal, the county’s three jail locations would consolidate at an expanded Public Safety Building. The plan would also close the work-release Ferris Center and decommission the sixth and seventh floors of the downtown City-County Building.

“I just want to do the minimum that I feel we have to do to make the inmates and the staff safe,” Supervisor Paul Rusk, District 12, said. “I want to basically continue to force the overall criminal justice system to make even more reforms.”

Additionally, the proposal calls for reducing the number of jail beds by 91, minimizing the use of solitary confinement cells, providing separate space for 17-year-old inmates, increasing programming space by about 50 percent and bringing the jail into compliance with the Prison Rape Elimination Act.

The second phase that Willett wanted to fund would relocate the Sheriff’s Office and Emergency Management and renovate the Public Safety Building’s first, second and third floors.

‘Keep on the pressure’

A group of about 30 people protested Monday at a rally hosted by a community organization called Derail the Jail ahead of the Public Protection & Judiciary Committee’s meeting to speak out against the jail expansion and oppose Willett’s call for additional funding.

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The Dane County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote on the budget in November.

The group is also in support of an amendment sponsored by Supervisor Heidi Wegleitner, District 2, that would have removed all funding for jail renovations. The amendment did not receive a second at the committee’s Oct. 24 meeting and was not debated, which means it could be introduced again.

“This jail is going forward. We’ve got to keep on the pressure,” Wegleitner said at the rally. “We can’t tinker around the edges and claim we care about ending racism in Dane County.”

The group called for the county to dedicate more funding to “community needs” such as housing and jail diversion efforts.

Freedom Inc. co-executive director M Adams said a vote for jail funding is a vote against Dane County’s African-American residents.

“Where this county spends their money tells us what they actually believe in and values,” Adams said.

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Abigail Becker joined The Capital Times in 2016, where she primarily covers city and county government. She previously worked for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and the Wisconsin State Journal.