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Tuesday, September 16, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 63.0° F  A Few Clouds
The Daily
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Delayed jail space-needs study for Dane County should be out in June
A new jail to replace Dane County's current facilities is one option likely to be offered in an upcoming report.
Credit:Kristian Knutsen

June just might be the month the long-awaited, much-delayed jail space-needs study will be released, says Dane County Executive Joe Parisi.

"I think they're looking at the overall picture," he says of Mead & Hunt, the architectural firm hired to prepare the $440,000 study. "They're looking at staffing costs for the various options they'll present."

Among those options will likely be a new, state-of-the-art jail that some county board members estimate will cost upwards of $120 million.

"It would be the most expensive public works project in county history," says Supv. Tim Keifer, who has expressed frustration over the report's repeated delays.

"We were told during budget discussions the study would be released in December. It's now May and we still don't have it."

Sheriff Dave Mahoney says he's open to all options, but has been inviting reporters and others to tour the jail so they can see firsthand the bleak conditions in which inmates live.

Mahoney says cell doors that won't open due to mechanical failures are putting inmates in the antiquated City-County Building jail at risk, because it takes three hours to then dismantle the door.

"If someone had an emergency they'd be in trouble," he says.

And the Public Safety building isn't equipped to house mentally ill inmates, who are placed in solitary confinement, cells designed to punish. He envisions hospital-style rooms to house mentally ill inmates.

"This is a human rights issue," says Mahoney, who is up for re-election in November. "We're setting people back in their treatment. We are doing them a great injustice, but we have no other option."

While Mahoney eyes a better inmate experience, Parisi looks to the bottom line.

"We're taking a hard look at our space needs," he says. "Can we bring more facilities under one roof? Would there be operational savings?"

Mahoney and Parisi say they have no intention of adding beds.

Supv. David Ripp doesn't see the need for a new jail -- the Public Safety Building opened in 1994 -- but hopes that if one is eventually approved today's county leaders are more forward-thinking than those past.

Recalling the debate over whether to build a new jail in the early 1990s, Ripp looks back on a failed push to add two floors to its design.

"They said we would never need the space," he recalls. "It would've cost us $10 million then, as opposed to $120 million now. I tell you what: It would've made things a lot simpler today."

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