Cost Issues Delay Wisconsin Jail Project

By Lisa Kopochinski 

DANE COUNTY, Wis.—Due to a budget overrun of approximately $20 million, the reconstruction project of Dane County Jail in Madison, Wis., has been postponed until spring 2021.

The county’s jail facilities are housed in three locations, including at the downtown Public Safety Building.

In a statement, Dane County Board Chair Analiese Eicher said that while it will take time revise the $148 million project, the board should consider implementing behavioral and restorative initiatives.

“To be clear, the coming months are not a time of waiting for the next jail vote, but rather a time to embrace and push forward reforms including behavioral health initiatives like CAHOOTS/STAR and a triage and restoration center, and further restorative justice measures like a community justice center.”

CAHOOTS and STAR are mental health ambulance models that provide a non-emergency response to someone who needs help. These models are also alternative tools to law enforcement intervening in mental health crisis situations.

The design team is working to keep the project at or below budget while adapting plans to create space that can be converted from inmate housing to program space if the jail population is permanently lowered.

In June 2019, Dane County approved additional funds — totaling $148 million — to construct a tower next to the Public Safety Building in a county-owned parking lot instead of building on top of it. The additional funds and new tower were needed because the county found out that the Public Safety Building could not hold additional weight.

Eicher said contracts for the project will not be ready until next March or April. The County Board will be voting on the jail project contracts, and Public Protection & Judiciary and the Public Works & Transportation committees will be updated regularly.

Once completed, the part of the jail located on the sixth and seventh floors of the City-County building downtown will close, and all jail facilities will be consolidated downtown. The number of beds will also be reduced from 1,013 to 922.