Jail Consolidation Project Statement

MADSA Abolitionist Working Group

On Monday night (April 10th) the county Personnel & Finance (P&F) and Public Protection & Judiciary (PP&J) committees held a joint meeting to decide on how to borrow more money, up to a new total of $179 million, for the towering new jail. AWG members and many other activists spoke against the project. The only citizen who spoke in favor was an ex-supervisor who claimed we needed a “humane jail”. There is no such thing as a humane jail, and anyone who claims they can build you one is a liar.

County board supervisors like Jeff Weigand openly asked the sheriff which of the two borrowing plans he supported, instead of questioning the assumptions of our carceral state. Others repeatedly assumed that everyone in the jail is a criminal, when the majority are yet to be adjudicated. Clearly, our county board are falling in line with the harmful demands of the sheriff. This jail will be a six story monument to the racial disparities Dane County continues to uphold, and costs to run it will be an order of magnitude more than the capital cost to build it. If we build this jail, that will set Dane County on a trajectory of doubling down on incarceration.

The two options for borrowing passed “without recommendation” 4-2 from PP&J and “with recommendation” from P&F 4-1, and head to a full board meeting next Thursday, April 20.

We refuse to spend any more money on a system which destroys lives.

If Dane County actually put in the effort to reduce arrests and holds of Black people to a similar proportion as we currently arrest and jail white people, the population of the jail would instantly be cut almost in half. If we provided permanent housing, high quality mental health care, and non-coercive addiction programs, the 120+ homeless folks who are cycling in and out of the jail would not need to be traumatized over and over. You can’t get well in a cell. If we truly support our community, we could do all that, close the City County Building floors, and have no need for this new jail. And all that would likely be cheaper than paying to cage people, too.

We note that those in favor of building the biggest jail claim it’s the common sense approach, but never have any evidence for those claims. The board always claims it wants to make “positive progress” on “criminal justice reform”, but they never follow up when it matters. They tried to downsize in November’s budget, and county executive Parisi vetoed that Black Caucus plan; will the board just crumble and build the bigger jail that Parisi and the sheriff want? It remains to be seen. We need to remember that some of the supervisors most invested in building the jail have conflicts of interest, working for groups invested in the carceral system, such as police fraternities. Others simply assume that a new jail will be more “humane” because they have been told it has medical beds and slightly different designs for solitary confinement. We say the most humane option is to simply not house people in the jail pre-trial in most cases. Jail, even for a few days, can ruin lives, and it is used that way, to compel plea deals and threaten our neighbors.

It is likely that at the next county board meeting on April 20th, a plan will pass to finalize the $179 million in borrowing. But this is not a certainty. We must demand CARE, NOT CAGES from our elected representatives, and encourage them not to give up the fight for funding alternatives to incarceration. We might have to get louder about it. We need everyone. Ask your friends and family to contact their supervisor and say NO NEW JAIL. CARE, NOT CAGES! We’ll see you April 20th.

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