August 22, 2019
Sharon Corrigan - County Board Chair - 608.333.2285/Colleen Clark-Bernhardt - 608.266.3022
County Board

“Stress Test” finds successes and opportunities for further inmate reductions


While Dane County already incarcerates far fewer individuals than the national average, even greater reductions in the jail population could be achieved, according to an analysis released today. 


Earlier this year, the Dane County Criminal Justice Council retained the JFA Institute to complete a “stress test” to better understand the factors driving the size and attributes of the jail population. The goal was to see if changes in criminal justice policies, such as diversion of jail bookings, or case processing modifications, would have a major impact on the current size of the jail population without endangering public safety. 


JFA Institute has worked with large and small jurisdictions across the United States to effectively and safely reduce incarceration.  “Compared to other national sites, Dane County has done a good job of keeping the jail population fairly low.” said Jim Austin, Executive Director of JFA Institute.  “Reductions in case processing times and the length of holds would further lower the Dane County jail population.”


The JFA analysis indicates that Dane County is performing better than many jurisdictions in limiting its use of jail incarceration, with a per capita incarceration rate of 154 per 100,000 population, compared to the 2017 national rate of 229 per 100,000.


As part of the analysis, the JFA Institute led a case-based review of a sample of cases with a focus on reasons for release from jail, with key city, county and state criminal justice system officials at the table. 


“Dane County has held its jail population steady since 2010, even as the number of residents in the county has grown by tens of thousands,” said Sheriff Dave Mahoney, “We are building a smaller, safer, more humane jail and in order to safely lower our population even more, requires all of us in the criminal justice system working together.  Clearly, decisions throughout the entire criminal justice system have an impact on the number of people held in jail.    We need to use this analysis to help us realize more reductions in the number of people in jail.”


The report suggests that making further reductions in the jail population will require different strategies than have been employed thus far.  Changes could take the form of reducing sentence length or expediting transferring out to another institution.  Research has found that small reductions in length of stay have been shown to have little impact on public safety—but can have a large impact on jail population reduction. 


“This stress test is exactly the type of evidence-based analysis the county needs to move forward,” said County Board Chair Sharon Corrigan.  “That said, as we take action to reduce our jail population, Dane County must also reduce racial inequity throughout the criminal justice system.   Success will be measured not only by the size of the jail population, but also by decreasing the number of people of color who are incarcerated in our county.”

The JFA Report and more information on the Dane County Criminal Justice Council is available at:



Who is JFA?

The JFA Institute is a multi-disciplinary research organization. The JFA mission is to conduct theoretical and applied research on the causes of crime and the justice system’s responses to crime and offenders.

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