Dane County inmate trapped in cell after malfunction

Dane County inmate trapped in cell after malfunction

Safety concerns over the Dane County jail are continuing to rise after an inmate was trapped in his cell for almost an hour Monday night.

The sheriff’s office said a malfunction in the cell door caused the problem.

Monday night’s incident is just one of the many safety concerns that are becoming more frequent at the jail, officials said. The county has already voted to close part of the jail, but in the meantime officials are left searching for solutions on how to keep inmates and workers safe.

“These are the kind that keep me awake at night,” Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney said.

Mahoney has warned the county about broken jail cell locks and inmates stuck in their cells before.

Monday night, sheriff’s deputies were conducting a search for contraband in the cell block. One cell door malfunctioned while deputies were moving inmates from their cells into a holding area and one male inmate was trapped inside.

“Had this individual had a medical emergency or tried to harm himself, we would’ve been taking him out in a body bag rather than removing him to conduct routine business,” Mahoney said.

The door did not open when deputies tried a manual override of the door. Maintenance workers had to be called in because they do not have maintenance crews scheduled overnight. Maintenance workers were able to open the door around 12:30 a.m. Tuesday. The inmate was trapped for 51 minutes.

“What’s happening is the issues are coming up with greater frequency. We are talking about an Alcatraz-like jail so it’s way past its usefulness,” said Paul Rusk, who is on the Public Protection and Judiciary Committee.

Rusk chairs the committee that voted to close the City County Building portion of the jail last month, due to safety concerns outlined in a study, and remodel the part in the public safety building. The county has been working to get inmates out of the jail as soon as possible, but said it has run out of options.

“There’s no short-term fix. The short-term fix would be shipping to another county but we don’t have that option because other counties aren’t interested in our maximum-security inmates,” Rusk said.

The study says there’s a risk to the county. Safety issues include increased suicide risk with more than 100 beds outside of the safe evacuation zone and broken locks. Consultants are working on a short-term construction solution.

Mahoney, who has been pushing for changes in the jail for years, said that there needs to be an immediate fix.

“It’s imperative that we continue moving forward for the replacement of that building and that we don’t allow time to skate away in hopes that it is somebody else’s problem,” he said.

A temporary fix will have to go through a voting and bidding process. Rusk said he hopes to have an approved plan and start construction by the end of this year.