Black Caucus unveils new plan for Dane County’s Jail Consolidation Project
August 02, 2022
Highlighting the need to address severe racial disparities, the plan features lower costs, reduced bed count, and sweeping reforms to the county’s criminal justice system.
The Black Caucus of Dane County’s Board of Supervisors has released their plan to resolve the county’s impasse on the Jail Consolidation Project.
The plan, if adopted, would allow progress to resume on the largest public works project in Dane County’s history. The project aims to replace existing jail cells in the City-County Building, which are widely considered outdated and inhumane. After being approved by the County Board in March of this year, progress on the project was stalled because of projected cost overages.
Central to the new plan—officially titled 2021-RES-136—is a set of reforms to Dane County’s criminal justice system. The reforms are designed to lower the jail’s population by addressing severe racial disparities in incarceration. These disparities include an incarceration rate for Black individuals that is double the national average.
Under the Black Caucus’ plan, the new jail facility would be smaller than called for in previous plans. A smaller facility would bring the project back on budget and cost less to operate once opened. Data indicate that if disparities are reduced, a smaller jail will meet the county’s needs for years to come. For example, if Dane County’s incarceration rate for its Black population matched that of the United States, there would be 200 fewer people in the county’s jail today.
Meanwhile, money saved through lower operating costs could be used to fund community services.
The new plan calls for construction of a 5-story facility with up to 725 beds. Previous plans called for 6 stories and 825 beds. "Arguments that we need a larger facility implicitly assume that we will not address the severe racial disparities that exist in our criminal justice system today," said Supv. Dana Pellebon, a member of the Black Caucus. "What does that say to Black families in Dane County, like mine?"
Supv. April Kigeya, another member of the Black Caucus, agreed, noting that with the money saved through operating a smaller jail, "community services could be properly funded and expanded. This would further reduce the demand for jail beds, because people’s needs would be met."
The Black Caucus plan calls for reforms throughout the criminal justice system, including implementing weekend court, addressing disparities in how cash bail is utilized, eliminating the practice of arresting victims of crime when they report, limiting the length of probation holds, and finding alternatives for youthful offenders. Their plan also includes extensive reporting on who ends up in jail, why, and for how long. These reports would foster transparency and allow the county to identify additional opportunities for improvement over time.
The complete plan is available to the public at the Black Caucus website, danecountyblackcaucus.org.