The Dane County Board of Supervisors approved an additional $13.5 million in funding for the Dane County Jail project to replace outdated cell blocks with a new consolidated six-story, 825-bed jail facility on Thursday.
Board members voted to close the current jail facility — built in the 1950s — located on the top floors of the City-County Building. The decision followed a deal struck between the Dane County Black Caucus and Dane County Sheriff Kalvin Barrett requiring Barrett to transfer all people charged with federal crimes from the county jail and present recurring reports on the jail population.
Removing federal residents from Dane County Jail will free up beds and ensure resources are allocated to local residents alone, according to the Dane County Black Caucus’ website.
The measure will close a $13 million funding gap after a monetary estimate placed the new jail system at $179 million, The Capital Times reported in March.
The Black Caucus initially voiced concern that the jail project would perpetuate racial disparities in incarceration, instead proposing a facility with 100 fewer beds that would free up revenue for community services and violence prevention projects. After the caucus and sheriff’s office reached a deal, the additional funding passed 32-5.
In Dane County, the incarceration rate for Black people is 1,400 per 100,000 residents — more than double the national rate of 616 per 100,000 residents. The deal brokered between the Black Caucus and the sheriff’s office will reduce the number of people held in jail and the length of their stay, according to Barrett.
Supervisor Dana Pellebon, a member of the Black Caucus, said the conditions Barrett agreed to were sufficient to receive the support of the caucus.
“In talking with the Black Caucus, the community, activists and other members of the County Board, we were able to articulate to Sheriff Barrett important issues that needed to be addressed before moving forward on this vote,” Pellebon said.
Supervisor Rick Rose ultimately voted in favor of the funding, but he called on the county to implement criminal justice reforms that prioritize the rehabilitation of the people living in the jail.
“We as a county missed an opportunity here,” Rose said. “While the majority of us have always been in favor of building a new jail — myself included — to replace the decrepit, inhumane part of our jail, hopefully through this process we also learned that we need to put our money where our mouths are.”
Barrett said in an email statement he will continue to support other criminal justice reform measures.
"Today is a good day for Dane County,” Barrett said. “We arrived at this point because of relationships and trust that we all want what’s best for the people of Dane County. I am committed to supporting programs and services that will ultimately reduce our jail population and address the root causes of incarceration."
The South Tower project will include one consolidated building with updated cells, medical and mental health care services, visitation, access to public transit and the courthouse, and greatly reduced solitary confinement, according to the sheriff’s office.
The Board of Supervisors developed the consolidation project after a 2016 county report recommended the current facility be closed and residents be transferred to an updated facility. The report raised concerns about the conditions in the jail that jeopardize the safety of residents and require “a complete and total renovation” to ameliorate.
Dane County Executive Joe Parisi pushed for the passage of consolidation funding after talks stagnated in the Board of Supervisors in March. Parisi previously told The Daily Cardinal the project is necessary because the current facility is too outdated.
“We have to have a jail, but at the same time, we have a responsibility to have a jail that treats people with dignity — a jail that is safe, a jail that allows us to help people address the core issues of why they’re there,” Parisi said. “It’s one of those infrastructure projects that no one wants to do, but it’s part of our responsibility.”
Construction is projected to begin in the fall and be completed in 2026, according to the Dane County Sheriff's Office.