Douglas County Jail efficiency study takes step forward

The proposal now moves to the county's Administration Committee for approval.

Government Center in Superior.jpg
Government Center in Superior. (Jed Carlson /

SUPERIOR — The Douglas County Public Safety Committee on March 30 approved a $35,000 study of the current jail to identify ways to increase efficiency and save costs. They also received an update on workforce shortages in a number of departments.

Sheriff Matt Izzard spent 12 years working in the jail.

“I don’t know how structurally anything we could change … would have a direct impact on staffing or housing,” Izzard told the committee, and the cost to make changes in the space would be considerable.

The amount the county would spend on the study roughly equals the amount it takes to train a new jailer, Douglas County Board Chairman Mark Liebaert said.

“What if it turns out for this $35,000, which is actually less than what we use for one recruit, that the changes to the jail will actually make it more feasible for employees to have a better work station, a better work life up there and we might quit losing (them)?” he asked.


“I can get on board with that,” Izzard said. “I’m open minded enough where if you have a better solution, I’d love to hear it. If an outside entity can come in and give me a better solution, I would like to know. I’m willing to try anything at this point to make life better for jailers.”

Izzard did, however, draw a line in the sand against any study looking at the feasibility of building a new jail. The current facility is functional, operational and less than 20 years old, Izzard said. Looking at replacement now would be like getting rid of a truck because it needs an oil change and a tire rotation, he said.

The jail study, which would be paid for with contingency funds, now moves to the county's Administration Committee for approval.

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Help wanted

Izzard said the county is seeking to fill seven jail positions. There are a few applicants “in the hopper” and “on the hook,” including one who would be the jail’s first 18-year-old hire. If all are approved, the jail would still be four positions short. The sheriff was hopeful that the protected service bill for jailers, which recently passed the Wisconsin Assembly and Senate, will be a good recruitment tool.

“I personally am excited for this to be signed by the governor,” Izzard said. “I know that jailers for the last 40 to 45 years have been writing to the state level trying to get this bill passed.”

Rough statistics provided by Izzard highlighted the importance of increased recruitment and retention. Douglas County jailers worked 14,062 hours of overtime in 2022. At that straight time rate, that equals $668,600. At a time and a half rate, Izzard said, it’s closer to $900,000. One jailer clocked in 591.5 hours last year; which equates to nearly 15 additional weeks of work.

The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office is also short four deputies in the patrol division.


Other county departments are seeking new hires, as well.

The county child support office is down two people, the committee was told, and it’s been overwhelming to everyone in the office. The Communications Center remains short staffed; its newest dispatcher passed training March 29. The Clerk of Courts Office is down one staff member.

Circuit Court Judge Kelly Thimm said he has a full staff.

“I’m happy, but of course having the jail down affects us, as to whether or not we can have people that are in Huber as opposed to just out on monitor. Having less probation agents hurts too to some extent,” the judge said.

He encouraged the county to actively recruit for positions.

“If we’re going to get people, we’ve got to be recruiters, selling ourselves, why we’re such a good place to work,” Thimm said. “I just encourage us to do that, whether it be county board members, other people in the room or just our human resources.”

Also discussed by the committee:

The sheriff’s department recently installed new radar units in squad cars. The bulletproof vests for members of the Special Response Team, however, are expired by years. Izzard told the committee he has secured grant funding to pay for two-thirds of the cost, and is seeking additional grants to cover the rest.


“That’s a huge priority for me,” the sheriff said.

Thimm told the committee he had seen a decline in divorce cases in 2022 compared to previous years. Divorces decreased by nearly 30% in 2022 — from 148 in 2021 to 104 in 2022 — according to Clerk of Courts Office records. Family court cases, which include both divorces and child support actions, dropped from 247 in 2021 to 164 in 2022.

Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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