Dozens of community members rallied ahead of the Dane County Board of Supervisors’ budget hearing Wednesday night to oppose $76 million included in Executive Joe Parisi’s proposed 2018 budget for jail renovation.
The jail renovation proposal is the most expensive project the county has seen. Including debt service, the jail expansion would carry a total cost of $108 million over 20 years.
Proponents argue the renovations are needed to increase safety for inmates, staff and volunteers, while those opposed argue that funding could be put toward other uses.
“We need housing, we need food and we need mental wellness services,” Freedom Inc.’s Gender Justice Coordinator Bianca Gomez said at the rally.
Luke Eckenrod was leading the rally on behalf of a group called Derail the Jail, which is dedicated to stopping the county from spending money on the jail and seeking alternatives to those funds. Eckenrod said the group is demanding the county board reaffirm its commitment to reduce incarceration and invest in housing.
“Those are things that are going to reduce the long-term social and economic costs and not increase oppression of people of color, of poor people, of people with mental illnesses,” Eckenrod said.
Under the proposal, Dane County’s three jail locations would come under one roof at an expanded Public Safety Building. It would close the county’s work-release Ferris Center on Madison’s south side, add flour floors to the Public Safety Building and decommission the sixth and seventh floors of the downtown City-County Building.
The 1954 CCB jail was previously recommended by consultants to close with “due haste” because of the risks to the safety and well-being of inmates and jail staff. Vertical bars on cell block doors and linear hallways that restrict sightlines in the CCB jail make it unsafe.
“We have a moral and ethical responsibility to treat our neighbors with dignity, respect and at the very minimum keep them safe and alive while they’re incarcerated,” Sheriff Dave Mahoney said at a neighborhood meeting Tuesday.
The plan also calls for medical and mental health beds, space for 17-year-old inmates, increased programming space, a reduction in solitary confinement cells and a reduction of beds overall.
Parisi also included $110,000 for the county to provide peer supported, reentry case management service and an additional staff position in the sheriff’s office to coordinate the re-entry program.
Sup. Heidi Wegleitner, District 2, spoke at the rally ahead of the meeting and said she plans to fight the jail proposal. While she supports closing the CCB jail, Wegleitner said in a newspaper opinion column that the county should aggressively fund alternatives to reduce the jail population and expand efforts to increase access to affordable housing.
She will be proposing a $25.4 million budget amendment including for 190.5 housing units for homeless veterans, the chronically homeless and homeless youth. Additionally, Wegleitner plans to introduce a $780,000 amendment for 12 case managers.
“We’re here because we believe in a different future,” Wegleitner said.