Quest for Transparency - County Jail
We have a wonderful life here in Kewaunee. It is a beautiful place that is safe and secure, especially when compared to bigger towns and cities. Yet there is something looming in our future that we need to watch vigilantly to make sure our lovely town does not lose its charm and livability. As an alderperson of District 2, I have specific duties to communicate to my constituents and fellow neighbors and I write this open letter with all that in mind.
The county has just passed legislation to put a jail in our city, and more specifically in our district. So we can’t help but be affected by this decision. Our district also houses many of the county offices. As the county seat, our city has benefited from the county in many ways. We have county jobs. We have sheriffs that are obligated to spend at least part of their day in our city. And there are lots of county services at our fingertips because we are the county seat. And while we pay for the county like everyone else with our taxes, the proximity is clearly a benefit that we alone enjoy.
The jail, however, is something that gives us pause. On the one hand, we depend on policing for our safety, but a jail is also an integral part of policing. We may not like to think about it, but wherever there is a police department, there is also a jail. People who are arrested must sit somewhere. And even though we don’t think about it much, we currently have a jail. And we have always had a jail. It hides beneath the stately facade of the old courthouse. We drive by it every day. To be against a jail is naive—it’s the same as being against the police. One begets the other.
But this is not just any jail. This new jail will be much larger. It can handle double the inmates, and our county is not growing at a rate that would suggest that size. Sure, in the next two decades we may add another 20% to our county. Green Bay is growing, and that is surely going to spill over into our county. You can already see that our county land nearest Green Bay is being developed. What were farms are turning into homes. And we are the county seat—with sheriffs come jails, not just for our city but for the county as a whole. The jail should be near the courthouse and county offices that are right here in our district.
But I have concerns, and so do many of the neighbors of our district and the city as a whole. In the old days, jails housed convicts and those awaiting trial. The common wisdom used to be that jails were great—they provided jobs, and besides, all the criminals were on the inside. But that’s not actually true anymore. In our modern idea of policing, criminals have work release, ankle bracelets, parole and other schemes of rehabilitation or cost management that allow convicts to live within the community of the jail, but not necessarily within the walls of the jail. I have met more than one family who have moved away from a town with a penitentiary because the town was no longer safe. Even police officers find it difficult when they see the person they arrested last night walking past their homes the next day.
And it’s with these facts in mind that I address our local Judge and Prosecutor and Sheriff. As county officials, you, along with the county administrator and board have pragmatically decided to build a large new jail in a neighborhood already containing elderly housing, families with two working parents, schools and assisted living facilities. Your new jail will be within walking distance of small cash businesses, a marina with expensive equipment and homes without the security found in bigger cities. Our underbelly is completely exposed and undefended.
I understand that even members of our families and neighbors may end up from time to time in a jail. We are not perfect. Alcohol and opioids are abused in our town and all over the county. We do not deny that even from within our families and neighborhoods, there are folks that make unwise decisions or find themselves in crisis. But I ask those in the county criminal services to think hard. I am asking those who think our neighborhood is suitable to rehabilitate violent or habitual criminals to consider the awesome responsibility that you are taking upon yourselves. Two decades ago, there was a tragic and heinous crime in our neighborhood. Some say time heals all wounds, but this very year, twenty years later I have seen fresh tears when family members are reminded of that past. Time does not heal everything—we just learn to live with painful memories.
Please promise us when you build this new jail that you will never jeopardize the safety of our community. That you will never consider a budget before the lives of our citizens. As judges, prosecutors, sheriffs, parole officers, county administrators and board members, your decisions can have profound consequences. In your hands you have our communities, our businesses, our families and our lives. Please never forget that when you are performing your duties. Please don’t let violent offenders from other counties like Milwaukee and Green Bay live in low-cost housing outside our new jail just so they can report in to our parole officers. Please don’t let long term inmates attract bookies, drug dealers and pawn brokers to our city—just to make a few extra dollars for the county.
Judges, prosecutors, sheriffs, parole officers, county administrators and county board members, if you think my concerns are unwarranted, please speak to your constituents about these matters, especially before any elections. Honestly state your point of view so residents will have an informed vote. My point of view is that we need a new jail, but regardless of the budget, we should never put our citizens at risk.
Thanks for listening,