Sheriff on aging jail: ‘I continue to have great concerns for safety’

A Dane County official said an equipment malfunction Thursday is more evidence that the aging jail facility poses safety issues to staff and inmates.

Sheriff Dave Mahoney said in a news release that a cell lock malfunctioned during a routine inspection at 1:15 a.m. Thursday. Maintenance staff was ultimately called to help and the door was opened about 5 hours later.

Mahoney said Thursday that the aging jail facility is creating life and health safety concerns, and that the jail is contracting with Madison-based consulting firm Mead and Hunt in association with Potter Lawson Inc. and Pulitzer Bogard and Associates to address the issues.

Mahoney said the cell door malfunction highlights problems with the City-County Building portion of the jail, which is more than 60 years old. He said the outdated operating system of the cell doors have been a life and safety risk on several occasions.

“I continue to have great concerns for the safety of the inmates entrusted to our care and our staff charged with their safety, when there continues to be occurrences of inmates trapped inside their cells,” Mahoney said in the release. “I am very concerned about the results of this happening in the event of a real emergency and the potential for loss of life and great civil exposure.”

Mahoney has been calling for change to aging parts of the jail for months. Mahoney told News 3 in November that a routinely failing locking system was of concern and poses a multitude of health and safety issues, such as if the locks failed in the event of a fire.

A county-funded study with the consulting firm, costing an estimated $477,522, was commissioned to detail issues with the jail and possible solutions.

A sheriff’s spokeswoman said the study was approved in the fall of 2015 during the county budget process and results are expected this summer.

Law enforcement leaders have also highlighted concerns about housing people with mental health issues in the jail, with Mahoney calling it “improper” and said it “borders on inhumane” to house mental health patients as inmates.