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Friday, December 01, 2023
Dane County Courthouse

“Build the people, not the jail”: Residents stand in opposition to additional jail funding

The Dane County Board voted in favor of paying architecture and engineering firm Mead & Hunt an additional $717,000 for the reconstruction of the Dane County jail Thursday night.

The resolution, a jail contract change order to Mead & Hunt, put $428,900 forward for professional services to develop “Value Engineering options” that will reduce the scope of the project to fit within the limitations of the project’s budget. An additional $288,404 is included to pay a design service fee “to implement cost-saving scope reduction measures.” The firm completed the work detailed in the first charge plans in September after it was determined that the project was over budget by approximately $20 million.

Over 40 individuals registered and spoke at the meetings, delivering three hours of testimony that mostly objected to the resolution.

Residents spoke on a myriad of issues, including concerns regarding the nearly doubled cost of the jail from the original quote and the logical disconnect of paying large amounts of money to Mead & Hunt in order to decrease costs. Others took issue with the county putting more money towards the jail project while failing to invest in community investment programs that can lessen the incarceration rate. 

Bridget Cremin, a resident and Madison Metropolitan School District employee, spoke in opposition to the project, citing the need for community building over jail development. 

“It is time to put a full stop to the contrary bullshit of public safety being achieved through incarceration,” Cremin stated. “Instead, let’s build the people, not the jail. Let’s fund our communities, especially our BIPOC communities, not corporations. Let’s create a public safety that is felt by all, not just those who hold the power.”

Mead & Hunt recommended closing the oldest parts of the Dane County jail in 2016, estimating that more than $47 million would be needed to bring the jail's sixth and seventh floors, in the City-County Building, up to the current building code. After an initial $76 million estimate was given for the project proposal, the budget was repeatedly re-evaluated, ultimately culminating in the current $148 million price tag

“You literally hired a jail design company to study whether or not you need a new jail,” resident Allison Bell Bern stated. “This is a democracy. You can’t just pay a bill that we didn’t say you could pay.”

The Chair of the Civilian Oversight Board, Shadayra Kilfoy-Flores, made an appearance at the meeting despite also being in attendance at the oversight board meeting. 

“It’s my duty as a citizen to let you know that this $717,000 should absolutely not be given because they went over budget,” she said. “As a Dane County citizen, I refuse to be strong-armed by Mead & Hunt. I am going to continue multitasking if I have to make sure that other marginalized, Latino voices are heard."

Remaining speakers called Mead & Hunt “drug dealers for white supremacy,” and the County Board “hoes” and “sackless.” After public testimony concluded, supervisors held a brief discussion on the resolution. Most representatives sympathized with constituent concerns and spoke critically on Mead & Hunt’s absence from the meeting.

District 6 Supervisor Yogesh Chawla took personal issue with the firm billing the county for unapproved work, stating, “this is a terrible business practice. Regardless of the politics of this project, or how people feel, this is just unethical billing work.”

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District 21 Supervisor Andrew Schauer noted his responsibility to constituents that have spoken with him outside of meetings — constituents that want the jail to be funded. 

“Everyone on this board works for over 15,000 Dane County residents,” District 21 Supervisor Andrew Schauer said. “I’ve talked to over hundreds of my constituents; a great majority of them know that we need a jail.” 

The Dane County Board remained deeply divided on the issue, but ultimately passed the jail contract change order 21-15. Construction could start as soon as Nov. 2021.

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