Mass Incarceration

Editorial | The Dane County Jail debate needs to end now | Editorial

Dane County has an archaic and overcrowded jail that Sheriff Kalvin Barrett precisely describes as “inhumane,” “unsafe” and “unconstitutional.” The sheriff says the jail is such a large number that the county will ultimately face a lawsuit for sustaining a harmful facility.

Barrett ran for election final fall on a promise to construct a brand new jail as part of a broad effort to undertake contemporary approaches to prison justice that place extra of an emphasis on offering inmates with psychological well being help and drug and alcohol rehabilitation, in addition to schooling and coaching to reenter the group and the workforce. Towards a critical Republican challenger who disagreed with the incumbent Democrat on many points, Barrett gained with greater than 76% of the vote.

That’s a mandate that must be taken significantly. This doesn’t imply that members of the Dane County Board ought to do every little thing Barrett suggests with regard to the jail, however it does imply that they will respect the place he’s coming from when he talks in regards to the want for a brand new and considerably improved facility.

On the identical time, Barrett can respect the truth that the 37 supervisors who serve on the board are the elected representatives of the individuals of Dane County and, as such, convey their very own mandates to the jail debate.

This mutual respect is important after a bitter week wherein the sheriff and several other board members clashed over the right way to put the ultimate items of funding collectively for the brand new jail.

The county has already approved $166 million for the development of a six-story jail with roughly 833 beds. Sadly, inflation and workforce points have bumped the value tag up by roughly $13.5 million. And the associated fee is more likely to continue to grow as estimates proceed to be adjusted upward.

Barrett has inspired the board to authorize the extra spending so contractors can get to work on the brand new jail. The board has been balking at placing more cash right into a venture that appears to get costlier with every passing month — and, in some circumstances, is extra formidable than they would favor.

In hopes of getting the wanted $13.5 million expenditure approved by the voters, Barrett and Dane County Govt Joe Parisi proposed placing a spending referendum on the April 4 spring election poll. The board rejected the thought by a 21-14 vote final week after an acrimonious debate that noticed nasty expenses and counter-charges exchanged.

That is an unresolved mess, and the clock is ticking. It’s time to succeed in a compromise and get this venture executed.

The $166 million that has been allotted already would pay for a brand new facility that meets many of the sheriff’s calls for. We’d prefer to see the board authorize some further cash — and board Chair Patrick Miles appears to be open to organizing a vote on this strategy. But when a board majority can’t be rallied to authorize the additional money, then the plans for the brand new facility needs to be redrawn in order that it may be completed for $166 million or thereabouts.

We’re not naïve about structure or public coverage. We all know that proposing a compromise is simpler mentioned than executed. We perceive {that a} redesign that seeks to chop prices, particularly one that’s executed quickly, could be problematic. However we additionally know that letting the jail debate drag on for one more season, or one other 12 months, will solely add extra prices.

Sooner or later, a call needs to be made to get development on the brand new jail began, even when the proposed facility is just not very best in each sense.

What ought to the parameters be for a cheap redesign? That’s not arduous. The emphasis ought to, in fact, be positioned on the dual targets of sustaining public security and making a facility that may present inmates with the psychological well being help, drug and alcohol rehabilitation and coaching they should break harmful patterns and begin new lives. That’s good for the inmates, and good for Dane County voters and taxpayers who effectively perceive that the reply to considerations about crime is just not an ever-increasing funding in mass incarceration.

As a part of the give attention to maintaining prices down, and on rehabilitation, affordable methods needs to be recognized for avoiding incarceration. Barrett and board members — a few of whom have clashed with the sheriff — ought to do their finest to place apart variations and give attention to figuring out these alternate options and integrating them right into a broader plan for reforming and bettering prison justice in Dane County. That is constant, we consider, with Barrett’s push for an strategy that “displays our group values.”

Dane County goes to have a jail. The query is whether or not it is going to be a contemporary and well-designed facility that’s protected and humane, that meets constitutional muster and that seeks to assist inmates get their lives again on observe. We consider that Sheriff Barrett and members of the County Board typically agree {that a} new jail can and will obtain these fundamental requirements. Clearly, they’ve some variations as regards exact points concerning the strategy and the associated fee.

It’s time to settle these variations, as shortly and amiably as potential — even when compromises are required — and to maneuver ahead.

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