Crawford County Looks to Begin Planning for New Jail Facility

In light of the challenges posed by an aging infrastructure and the evolving needs of the community, Crawford County officials have provided an outline of their plans for a new jail facility.  These plans are in the very earliest stages of pre-planning.

The Crawford County Jail, constructed in 1896, stands as the oldest operational jail in Wisconsin. Despite numerous remodels over its 127-year history, the facility, classified as a 42-bed facility, faces a myriad of challenges. Persistent plumbing issues have been a constant concern, with the jail grappling with malfunctioning showers and toilets. The outdated locks on cell doors are not only expensive but also difficult to replace. In fact, one cell has been out of service for three months due to a lock malfunction. Mold, attributed to poor ventilation, is another significant issue. The lack of space has even led to inmates sleeping in dayrooms, a situation that has resulted in write-ups from the state during inspections over the last 20 years.

Safety remains a paramount concern. The stairs to the jail’s second floor are particularly hazardous. A few years ago, a handrail broke off and remains irreparable, leaving only one handrail for support. This situation becomes especially precarious during medical emergencies or when handling uncooperative inmates. The narrow stairwell poses challenges in moving inmates, especially during medical emergencies, making it a dangerous situation for both staff and inmates.

The state jail inspection office has consistently recommended the construction of a new facility for the past decade. Recognizing the growing need, the county has initiated the early pre-planning stages for the new jail.

The southwest corner of the Courthouse lawn is being considered as a location for this endeavor.  Numerous sites that were in consideration for the building project did not work well for numerous reasons ranging from cost to logistics of running the facility.  While renovation was initially considered, it was deemed non-viable due to the building’s age and the associated high costs. Housing inmates during such a renovation would also incur significant expenses.

Liability is a significant concern for the county. Once an individual is arrested and placed in custody, the county assumes complete responsibility for their safety and care. Any injury due to inadequate housing could result in the county being held liable.

The new facility will prioritize the needs of inmates with mental health challenges. Plans include special needs cells with 24-hour monitoring. The design also emphasizes improving the standard of living for all inmates, with more natural light and dedicated recreational areas.  Our current facility is lacking in these priorities.  We currently only have two receiving cells that are used for observation of inmates.  These cells have no site line into the cells.

Potential state mandates are on the horizon, which might require inmates to serve sentences under 2 years in county jails. This change would significantly increase the jail’s annual population.

The new jail’s design will prioritize safety, with features like minimal stairs and functional locks and doors. Improved ventilation and natural lighting are also on the agenda.

The project is currently in its early planning stages, with several sites having been considered.

The board overseeing this project includes Sheriff Mccullick, Chief Deputy Olson, Jail Administrator Wittrig, Correctional Officer Bremmer, Emergency Management Hackett, 911 Coordinator Cipra, Judge Rider,  Court Liaison Becwar, and County Board members Steiner, Russell, Lorenz, Cornford, Koch, Ducharme, and Flansburgh.

Public involvement is crucial. The County Board and the Sheriff are mulling over organizing public meetings to gather community feedback. A space needs study, once completed and approved, will be made available to the public.

For questions or concerns, residents are encouraged to contact their respective County Board members, Sheriff Mccullick, or Lt. Wittrig.