By Shereen Siewert
Unsafe conditions at the Marathon County Jail are resulting in dozens of inmates either being transferred to other facilities or being released on GPS monitors, officials said Tuesday.
Contractors are currently undergoing temporary repairs of significant cracks and structural issues in an effort to stabilize the facility, which Marathon County Administrator Brad Karger is now calling an emergency situation. While the repairs are being completed, 55 inmates are being housed at out-of-county facilities while 25 inmates are on home monitoring, said Marathon County Chief Deputy Chad Billeb.
Structural issues, including significant cracks in floors, were first detected about five years ago, Karger said. But at that time, the issues were not significant enough to require immediate attention. Instead, county officials relied on monitoring devices to monitor the situation.
“Then,” Karger said, “last winter happened.”
To get a fresh set of eyes the county contracted with Strategic Structural Design for a new report. That report, issued July 19, revealed that significant snow loads and extreme temperatures magnified previously identified structural issues, prompting Karger to declare an emergent situation for safety reasons.
A “shoring up” process, the first phase for repairs, is underway, which required transferring prisoners elsewhere.
“You can’t do construction work in an operational jail,” Karger said, during a Tuesday news conference at the Marathon County Courthouse.
Because of the emergency situation, Karger authorized the first stage of repairs without issuing a request for proposals, which is allowed in certain circumstances.
“This was a very unusual series of events,” Karger said. “If we were going to err, we were going to err on the side of safety.”
On Thursday, members of the Marathon County Board of Supervisors will attend an emergency session to decide whether to move ahead with the current repair plan or opt for a more traditional route to find contractors to repair the jail — which would require issuing a formal request for proposals to complete the project. According to the meeting agenda, members will vote on whether to determine that an emergency exists and could authorize transferring funds from capital reserves to pay for the recommended repairs.
“It is my belief that it is not in the public’s interest to delay these repairs,” Karger said.
Marathon County Board Chair Kurt Gibbs said experts will inform the board Thursday of their findings and explore options for a long-term solution. There is currently no final cost estimate on the necessary repairs.
Meanwhile, Billeb said, transfers and ankle monitors for affected inmates are being decided on a case-by-case basis. Inmates who are on home monitors are already serving sentences and have been deemed eligible by judges and probation agents.
The emergency Marathon County Board meeting is set for 7 p.m. Thursday at the Marathon County Courthouse, 500 Forest St, Wausau.