The unofficial start of summer has come and gone and everyone is looking
forward to making some summer memories this year. While it’s still a
little too cool for a dip in the lake, and family vacations can’t start
until the kids are done with school, this is a time to reflect on old
summer memories. Remember that summer when Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough
Riders charged up San Juan Hill? Hey, isn’t that the same summer that
the United States annexed Hawaii? The big news in Northeastern Wisconsin
that same summer was the opening of
Green Bay Correctional Institute
(GBCI). Who could forget that summer of 1898?
GBCI is 119 years old and in constant need of repair and updating. A
2009 report commissioned by the state found that GBCI needed $142.4
million in updates and upgrades just to get the facility up to
code. Since then, the state has spent $7.6 million in repairs and
updates with another $22 million allocated in the governor’s proposed
2017-2019 state budget. It’s estimated that over the next 10 years GBCI
will need almost $200 million of taxpayer money just to be up to
code. Waupun Correctional Institute is older than GBCI having opened its
doors during 1854; however, the 2009 report found Waupun Correctional
institute doesn’t need the same kind of investment from the state as
Over-crowding has also become a significant problem and safety concern
at GBCI. GBCI has a set capacity is 749 prisoners, yet is home to 1,091
prisoners – 145 percent capacity. The overpopulation has led to inmates
being housed “dorm style” in GBCI’s gymnasiums. This situation would be
a security concern at any institution, let alone GBCI’s MAXIMUM SECURITY
PRISON – the prison population isn’t there for unpaid parking
tickets! Thirteen percent of GBCI’s population suffers from serious
mental illness and 90 percent are imprisoned for violent offenses.
GBCI isn’t alone in the Wisconsin correctional system with
overcrowding. The capacity for Wisconsin’s Department of Correction’s (DOC’s)
20 correctional institutions and 16 minimum security correctional
centers is 17,267 inmates. As of December 2016 these institutions actual
population was 21,389-a 125.2 percent capacity. A
recent report from the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliances estimates DOC will
have 23,233 inmates by June 2019 – 134.5 percent capacity.
Gymnasium to Prison Dormitory, Next on HGTV’s Flip or Flop?
The conditions and safety concerns at GBCI have led to low worker
morale, high employee turnover, and understaffing, causing the remaining
workers to be overworked and taxpayers footing the bill for high
overtime costs. Can you imagine being one of the 235 guards at GBCI and
having to face 1,091 inmates in a 119 year old building?
I’m proud to be the author, along with Representative David Steffen, of
Senate Bill 228
and companion bill
Assembly Bill 292.
Our bill offers a thoughtful solution to the mounting problems that
staff and taxpayers face at GBCI by allowing for its sale along with the
construction of a new maximum security facility in Brown County or an
Did I mention that GBCI is 119 years old?
By entering into a public/private partnership for a new maximum security
prison, the state will save millions of taxpayer dollars. The old
facility will no longer constantly need costly updates and upgrades, the
operating cost savings from a modern efficient facility will be
significant, and the state will not need to bond because of the
private/public partnership. A new facility will employ best prison
building practices that we’ve learned over the past 119 years and will
increase safety and morale.
The sale of the 50 acres currently occupied by GBCI will allow for
significant economic development opportunities for the Village of
Allouez. Currently, the state pays no property tax to the village for
GBCI; however, if the land is sold for what is estimated to be $7 to $10
million, it will go onto the tax rolls. It’s estimated that after the
sale and repurposing of the GBCI site (located right along the Fox
River), the Village of Allouez could have an additional $70 to $80
million added to its property tax rolls.
Developing the site of a former prison isn’t a new idea. The Alexander
Company redeveloped the site of historic Lorton Prison in Fairfax,
Virginia into community residences, workplaces, shopping, and green
space now known as Liberty
at Laurel Hill.
292 requires the Department of Administration to solicit bids for the
private construction and ownership of a new maximum security prison to
be located in Brown County or a county adjacent to Brown County. A
private prison would pay property taxes making the new facility very
attractive to a number of communities in Brown County and adjacent
counties. While the new prison would be privately owned, it would be
staffed by Wisconsin Department of Corrections guards and support staff
and be leased, with the option to buy, by the state.
On May 16, 2017, the Assembly Committee on Corrections held a public
hearing on AB 292.
I encourage you to watch the public hearing by clicking this link.
Fast forward to the 287 minute mark for the portion of the hearing about
SB 228/AB 292 is a win for everyone. Taxpayers in Allouez, Green Bay,
and Brown County will benefit because a previously public, non-taxed
facility will go back on the tax rolls. Taxpayers in the county of the
new prison will also benefit by collecting taxes on a privately owned
facility – perhaps Kewaunee County. Taxes aside, prison staff will work
normal hours, have less stress, and be safer. Even the prisoners will
benefit by being in a safer, more secure, and up-to-date environment.
I’ll continue to work on common sense solutions to make government
smaller, more efficient, and user friendly. Please share any ideas you
may have by calling, emailing, or visiting me.