In Dane County inmates are now residents. This kind of thing is a big part of the reason that Democrats lose more elections than they need to.
Yesterday, Dane County Sheriff Kalvin Barrett, who was recently appointed to the job by Gov. Tony Evers, announced that people in his jail would no longer be called inmates but rather residents.
On the merits, I think that’s fine. The idea is to create a more humane environment. If the change in language helps do that and provides a safer jail for those who live and work in it, it’s worth a try. If it fails, there’s no harm done.
But here’s where things go awry. There’s no reason that Barrett simply couldn’t have asked his deputies to start referring to inmates as residents. Instead, he held a news conference. On cue, local commentators started in on the mockery. For my own mental health I do not watch Fox News or listen to right-wing radio, but I can imagine what they might be saying. Barrett threw a high, hard fastball right over the plate. If you were in Pittsburgh, hello Allegheny River.
To make matters worse, Barrett chose a particularly awful day on which to hold his press conference. Over the weekend, a Madison teen was shot and killed at a party in the shadow of Camp Randall. That’s the fifth homicide this year and to date there have been 143 shots fired incidents in the city in which 28 people were hit. That’s more than even last year’s record-setting pace.
And to make matters still worse, the Sheriff has taken no position on the controversial jail expansion, pushed to the brink of ground-breaking by his forward-thinking and progressive predecessor Dave Mahoney. So, now we have a sheriff who is holding a press conference to announce a minor change in language used within the jail, while at that same press conference he refuses to so much as answer a question about the very future of that jail itself.
And that’s a new jail, by the way, which would reduce the number of overall beds, shut down the truly inhumane 1950’s era facility in the City County Building, and provide much better space for programs for residents (or even inmates). These are all things that liberals want, but the hard-left on the county board and activists in the community want an even smaller facility. Some even want to abolish the jail altogether.
In any event, Barrett took office only a few months ago and could be excused for taking his time to better understand his facilities and the proposal for better ones. But now it’s just irresponsible for the man in charge of the jail to have no position on a big, important, even historic decision about what that facility will look like going forward.
Finally, let’s get back to where we started, which is the politics of it all. While I don’t think the Dane County Board needs any more hard-left progressives, I’m a left-center Democrat. I want Democrats to retain control of Congress. I want a Democrat to take the seat now held by Sen. Ron Johnson. I want Democrats to start gaining seats in the Legislature. And, if no better candidate shows up to offer an alternative in a primary, then I want Gov. Tony Evers to be reelected.
But violent crime is a growing issue and the Democrats are vulnerable on it. A few days ago, I argued in this space that the Democrats are becoming the party of Dane County, and thereby making it all but impossible to win outside of it and a few other urban centers.
Barrett’s press conference underscored why that’s true.
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