December 03, 2020
County Board Chair Analiese Eicher, (608) 571-6823
County Board

Dane County Board Chair Analiese Eicher today introduced a resolution to decrease the number of beds in the consolidated jail by 50, for a total number of beds of 872. Current jail capacity is 1,013, across three facilities: the Public Safety Building, the City-County Building, and the Huber Center.


Citing lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic as well as innovative, forward-thinking reforms to the criminal justice system, the resolution proposes removing the bed capacity provided in one housing unit on the 3rd floor of the Public Safety building, reducing the number of beds by 50.


This approach was taken when the both the juvenile detention center and the courthouse were constructed. Space was roughed in for future use, but areas were not fully finished at the time of initial construction. In this case, once the South Tower Addition is completed, beds in the Public Safety Building will be closed.


The resolution also acknowledges that the $150 million jail consolidation meets the goals and objectives developed by the County Board, community groups, and the Sheriff’s Office over years of study, public engagement, and debate.


"Weighing both sides of this touch policy choice – operating the dangerous, inhumane facility we currently have cannot be our option. We need to move forward from this point and create real change. We’ve heard from multiple national experts, local leaders, and community members on what is needed to make changes to our criminal justice system," said County Board Chair Analiese Eicher. "This is our chance to do this right. We need to create a safe, restorative option taking into account all of the lessons we have learned."


Since March 2020, the criminal justice system has made changes to policies and practices which have resulted in fewer individuals in jail than the previous three year average daily population of 831. The average daily population for 2020 is currently 590 people in the jail or on electronic monitoring each day. However, this historically low number is expected to increase when the courts reopen once COVID-19 is under control.


The resolution recognizes that some would like to see the space freed up from closing a housing unit used for programming. But the average length of stay in the Dane County Jail is approximately 24 days, making it difficult to deliver effective programs. The resolution indicates that funds are better used for existing and proposed deflection and diversion programs.


The resolution has been referred to the Public Protection and Judiciary Committee, which will consider it next week. The full County Board will likely take up the resolution at its December 17th meeting.