County jail loses beds

The state’s smallest and oldest jail just got a little smaller.


The State Jail Inspector has notified the Kewaunee County Sheriff’s Department that six of its beds are no longer suitable for housing inmates. That makes the Kewaunee County Jail a 16-bed authorized facility. At times, the jail has held as many as approximately 40 inmates at once and the department relies on neighboring counties to house people.


Kewaunee County Sheriff Matt Joski added that the inspector has also ordered the analysis of the building’s other structural elements, many of which are approximately 50 years old. He says simply improving the current building and relying on other counties may not be sustainable.



The Kewaunee County Board established the Jail Strategy Committee earlier this year after it failed to pass a resolution giving the go-ahead to move on to the next phase of public safety facility planning. Joski says he appreciates the extra scrutiny and caution the board is taking following the nearly two years of work put in by the Public Safety Facility Planning Committee that is still continuing. You can read more of the jail planning update from Joski below.



This week I would like to provide an update regarding the Jail Facility planning process. As I have shared in the past, this has been a process that we initiated back in 2016 with an analysis of both our facility as well as our processes that guide our criminal justice system. The outcome of that analysis as well as the subsequent evaluations of our current facility was that our current jail is not only suffering from the effects of time, but the overall floor plan and layout pose significant security risks to those men and women who work there.


As we moved forward into our three-phase planning process over two years ago, we studied all options which again included considerations for the rehabilitation of our current facility. Due to the severe limitations of both the size as well as the configuration of our current facility, it was decided at that time that a new facility made the most sense both from a security perspective as well as an operational efficiency perspective. I feel it is important to note that these discussions took place over many months and were attended by members of the public, County Board members, our Jail Inspector as well as members of my staff.


While the decision to build a new facility is never an easy one, we all felt at that time that it provided the best option not only for our current needs but those of our next generation as well. With all of this information and data, we moved forward through phases one and two, continuing our discussions and soliciting input at every step of the way. It was unfortunate that upon the request to embark upon phase three which would have provided us with the essential details to streamline both costs and staffing, the project came to a screeching halt. So where are we now?


Although the current Public Safety Facility Planning Committee still exists, recently another committee (The Jail Strategy Committee) was created and convened for the purpose of reviewing options once again. While this additional re-visiting of the work we have done over the past six years caused me some level of frustration, I respect and appreciate the scrutiny and caution with which the County Board is proceeding. My goal always has been and continues to be the highest level of transparency and inclusion by not just our County Board but by our entire community, and  I will continue to provide as much feedback and relevant information as I can when requested by this new committee.


One of the options that is being considered once again, is the option of housing our overflow population in other counties. This is not a new concept as we have been doing this for decades, utilizing various facilities based on the length of sentences as well as costs per day. This option is not a substitute for our daily operations, nor does not take away from the reality of our current facility and its limitations and risks. It is also important to note that the utilization of another county’s facility is at the mercy of that county. If they find themselves in a situation where they need those beds for their community we will be served a prompt notice to remove our inmates from that facility. This is not an option for long-term operational planning.


As in the past, I welcome any and all questions and feedback on this project and want to once again extend an invitation to those who would like a tour of our current facility. We will also be sharing a recently conducted inspection by our State Jail Inspector which documents the various violations and corrective actions that need to be undertaken to continue to house inmates in our current facility. As a result of this most recent inspection, the State has ordered that six of our beds within the facility are not suitable for housing. Therefore we are no longer a 22 bed authorized facility but rather a 16 bed authorized facility. We will continue to work within the limitations of our current facility to adhere to the regulations and codes set forth by the state of Wisconsin to keep both our employees in a safe environment as well as those who are remanded to our care.

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