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Sheriff seeks to wipe out inmate debt before leaving

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Ahead of his final week as Dane County Sheriff, Dave Mahoney hopes to oversee the passage of a resolution that would eliminate the debt of past and current county jail inmates.

Mahoney said the measure, which would cost about $150,000, was meant to help inmates readjust upon their release into society.

"It's just time to wipe the slate clean, provide an opportunity for people to get caught up and start anew," Mahoney said.

Mahoney said the most common fees that rack up for inmates include those associated with electronic monitoring, work release and 'stolen' phone minutes, when one inmate uses another's pin to make calls.

He added those costs are often times passed along to relatives since a current jail policy takes 20 percent of money deposited into an inmate's commissary account and puts it toward retiring the debt.

Mahoney said the resolution is a one-time deal and, unless the county reworks the jail fees structure, will not benefit future inmates.

"The intent of this resolution is not to move it forward into the future, just wipe it clean effective my departure on the 8th of May," Mahoney said.

The resolution has been approved unanimously at the committee level and is set to go before the full county board on Thursday. Mahoney said he was very confident the full body was also show overwhelming support for the measure.

The proposal debt forgiveness is a complete contrast to Senate Bill 236, which had a public hearing at the state Capitol last Thursday. The bill calls for the state to take any future COVID-19 relief payments that go to state inmates and apply the money directly toward any outstanding restitution costs.

"To ensure victims get paid for their pain before criminals get to spend stimulus dollars to benefit themselves," said the bill's co-sponsor, Sen. Julian Bradley (R-Franklin). "Unfortunately some have already called this bill racist because they seem to be more worried about the criminals than our victims."

That bill is sponsored exclusively by Republicans although during the hearing Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) said she didn't disagree there should be money put toward money owed by inmates.

Mahoney said he felt it was the wrong approach, although he understood the desire to prioritize ensuring victims were made whole.

"I'm very sensitive to the rights of victims but we should not be further penalizing individuals who very well may need those grants to enter into a future success in their lives," Mahoney said.

Mahoney's last day in office is May 8. He is leaving the sheriff's post for a job with American Family Insurance.

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A. J. Bayatpour

Reporter, WKOW 27

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