MADISON, Wis. - As Dane County looks to build a new jail, it's also looking at ways to cut the number of inmates it houses.
The consolidated jail follows the South Tower plan, which will be built behind the Public Safety Building on Wilson Street. The county’s goal is to reduce the number of beds in the consolidated jail by 10 percent.
In order to get there, the County Board of Supervisors had to look at the criminal justice process from start to finish to see where changes could be made.
“We needed a path to helping us reduce the jail population in a safe way that keeps our community safe but also makes sure that we're meeting the targets that we've set,” said board Chair Sharon Corrigan.
Earlier this year, the board paid for a stress test on the jail's population to see how the county could cut back.
The report showed Dane County already starting ahead, with 75 fewer inmates per 100,000 than the national average.
Board Supervisor Yogesh Chawla, who voted no on the new jail in June, said there's still more to do, especially when it comes to racial equity and mental health.
“If we can deal with public health issues in a public health context and deal with criminal justice issues in a criminal justice context, I think it strengthens the system not only for the people who are going through it, but for the people who are delivering the services as well,” he said.
The stress test was done by the JFA Institute, a research organization that does studies like this for cities all over the country.
It suggested Dane County take new approaches, such as reducing sentence lengths or expediting facility transfers.
The report said research shows small reductions in lengths of stay have little impact on public safety but a large impact on jail populations.
Chawla and Corrigan said making these changes will take cooperation from all levels, from policy to implementation on the streets and in the courtroom, but it's work the county is willing to do.
“Although this jail construction project is moving forward,” Chawla said, “we're all going to move forward together to make policy changes to make sure we can reduce our jail population as much as we can.”
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