Sep 30, 201307:17 AMBlaska's Bring It!
with David Blaska
Has the climate changed enough to build more jail space?
(page 1 of 2)
In case of government shutdown, Blaska’s Bring It! blog will switch to emergency power; however, the blog will eschew polysyllabic verbiage, tours of the Stately Manor will be reduced to one-half hour on alternate Tuesdays (bring your own T.P.), and the indentured servants will be put on short rations.
Hell hath frozen over! After all the diversion programs, despite all the stop-gap measures, has Dane County government finally run out of touchy feely? Is the bin of pixie dust depleted?
Only 20 years after Dane County built its Public Safety Building, the sheriff is finding that this fast-growing county needs more jail space. The county executive is looking at $85 million to build more jail space — possibly as an add-on to the existing main structure on W. Doty Street. May we be allowed leave to say, just this one time, bold-faced and capital letters:
WE TOLD YOU SO!
We had all the population growth projections in 1992, when the Public Safety Building project was first green-lighted. Dane County was then, as it is now, the fastest-growing county (by absolute numbers) in the state. We would build the jail with three extra floors just roughed out for future expansion. The county executive at the time vetoed those floors out of the budget.
At the Public Safety Building’s dedication in the Spring of 1994, Rick Phelps, a standard issue liberal, gave one of the worst speeches since Jimmy Carter climbed into the cardigan. He actually apologized for building a jail; he said the county had failed by not solving the root causes of crime. I wanted to slap his face.
Fast forward to 2007; the county took delivery of a $140,000 study — not to determine long-term jail space needs but “to devise a shoehorn for the little old lady who lived in the shoe to reduce the pinch a little while longer,” as your scribe described it at the time.
That report recommended greater use of electronic bracelets and a host of complicated Band Aids, harder to describe and even harder to implement. Mainstream news accounts of the time mischaracterized the report, prepared by outside experts, as vindication that new jail space was not needed. To the contrary, the study’s authors were specifically directed not to examine jail expansion. The Institute for Law and Policy Planning apologized that "A ... study was requested to examine . . . how to obtain the most with currently available resources."
As I wrote in August 2007, that study — by design — “ignores state population projections that show Wisconsin's fastest-growing county will add 124,000 people in the next 25 years.” Already in 2007, our jail capacity per capita was 37% below the statewide average. In other words, we were under-jailed then and would become even more so as the county grew.
Those three additional floors would have cost $46 million, something Kathleen Falk, the county executive who wanted to be attorney general, then governor or perhaps chief park ranger, called “neither necessary nor affordable.” (For sheer policy blindness, please read her entire diatribe directed against my advocacy.)
Could I interest you in swampland?
In the meantime, the county spent several million dollars upgrading the antiquated jail space in the original city-county building, built in 1954. It was, perhaps, the most wasteful program in local county government history — unless one counts Falk’s swampland buying spree.