Plan will update City-County Building to protect inmates, staff
Acknowledging it’s only a stopgap measure, the Dane County Board has approved spending up to $4.4 million for badly needed safety improvements at its aging downtown jail facility.
The plan, which was OK’d by the full board at its meeting Thursday night, is meant to address immediate problems with solitary confinement cells, health needs and federal Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) requirements while officials work toward a long-term solution.
“Making interim health and safety improvements in the 1954 City-County Building Jail will help to keep our staff and inmates safer as we move towards a permanent solution that will add special needs beds, eliminate solitary confinement and create a modern facility that will provide the assistance inmates need to turn their lives around,” said Supervisor Paul Rusk, chairman of the County Board’s Public Protection and Judiciary Committee.
The $4.4 million initiative includes replacing old or faulty cells locks; video surveillance cameras; window replacement; a smoke management system; and boarding costs for inmates during the construction.
Sheriff Dave Mahoney has warned that the confusing layout and outdated equipment at the Dane County Jail complex pose threats to both staff and inmates. A consultant’s report in May said the county faced liability in the event of suicides, sexual assaults and fire.
The report also estimated it would cost more than $47 million to bring the CCB floors up to current building code and safety standards. It urged the county to abandon using the 62-year old facility as a jail “with due haste.”
The county jail facilities are spread across three separate buildings:
· Maximum security cells are located on the 6th and 7th floors of the City-County Building (CCB) at 210 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
· The Public Safety Building at 115 W. Doty St. houses medium security prisoners and most administrative offices for the Dane County Sheriff’s Department. It is connected to the CCB via a tunnel running under South Carroll Street.
· The William H. Ferris Center at 2120 Rimrock Road houses minimum security prisoners with work release privileges and administrative office for electronic release programs.
Officials have noted almost 80 suicide attempts at the jail over the past year, nearly all at the CCB where inmates have used the outdated cell bars as anchor points for hanging themselves.
A separate report from the county earlier this year said the changes at the CCB are merely a “Band- Aid” to resolve some of the most significant problems and in no way should be considered a long term solution or fix.
“Any delay in moving out of the CCB Jail will continue to increase the risk and exposure of staff and inmates regarding health and life safety,” said the report.