Sheriff: Study aims to fix jail’s safety hazards

Dane County Public Safety Building

After months of controversy over renovating the Dane County Jail, the county board greenlighted more than $477,522 for a study, which the sheriff says has the potential to improve the lives and safety of inmates and staff.

“One of the issues we will talk about is special needs housing for those on detox, who have a medical condition or with mental health issues,” Dane County Sheriff David Mahoney said. “It’s something where we’re at the crossroads now where we will either do the right thing or we’ll continue doing what we’ve always done.”

In Public Safety Building and City Council Building, for instance, Mahoney hopes hospital beds will replace days, weeks, and sometimes even months of solitary confinement for prisoners suffering from medical conditions or mental illnesses.

“It’s improper and borders on inhumane to house someone here, because they have a medical condition,” Mahoney said.  “They were designed in 1994 to change behavior for those who want to fight with police officers. Who don’t want to follow the rules for a period of hours. Not days. Not months.”

In the CCB, Mahoney also worries about locking systems, which routinely fail, preventing inmates from being able to be released from their cells in case of an emergency.

“There have been fires or fires in the elevator that have filled this jail with smoke,” Mahoney said.

While the Young, Gifted and Black coalition is happy ending certain solitary confinement is a goal, leader Alix Shabazz says members feel the money is really a roundabout way to begin new jail construction.

“But what we don’t want is solitary confinement to be used as an excuse to continue to poor resources into this jail that does not fix violence within our communities,” Shabazz said.

Pulitzer/Bogard and Assoc. LLC, architects Mead & Hunt, along with Potter Lawson, Inc. will conduct the study.  They plan on using suggestions from three community committees, who gave their recommendations to the County Board in putting their final report together.

Shabazz said YGB will continue pushing for the release of 350 non-violent black prisoners.