Bipartisan support grows for closing prison in Allouez

ALLOUEZ – Years after a Green Bay-area legislator proposed closing the state prison in Allouez and building its replacement elsewhere in the region, local officials from both political parties have written letters urging state officials to close Green Bay Correctional Institution.

The letters are being sent to Department of Corrections Secretary Kevin Carr.

Supporters of the idea say a newly built prison would be safer for staff and inmates, and cheaper to operate than GBCI. They don’t say where, or if, they believe a new facility should be built.

The current facility was a bicycle factory when the state purchased it and began operating it as a prison for its first eight inmates in the 1890s.

State, Brown County and local officials who signed the letters promoting closure agree that the prison, which houses several hundred more inmates than it was designed for, does a poor job of rehabilitating prisoners and preparing them to return to society. Some say it’s inefficient and falls short of its goal of helping inmates become people who are motivated to avoid prison in the future.

More:Close Green Bay Correctional, reduce Wisconsin’s prison population? The effort faces uphill battle

“Outdated facilities do not create the foundations for success needed to reduce recidivism,” Brown County Sheriff Todd Delain wrote.

Delain noted that the prison first housed inmates in 1898 as the “Wisconsin State Reformatory,” and has said previously that portions of the prison show their age. The prison was the scene of a homicide in October when inmate Joshua Scolman was charged with killing inmate Timothy Nabors. It also has been the scene of corrections officers being assaulted by inmates; an officer was unable to work after he was assaulted by an inmate who threw a kettle of scalding water on the staffer in a kitchen area in 2016.

The newspaper has requested an interview with the Department of Corrections to weigh in on the latest action by Green Bay-area elected officials.

Corrections Secretary Carr acknowledged when he took office several years ago that GBCI is more expensive to operate than a modern facility would be. But it’s well-known that Wisconsin prisons have little extra space for more inmates, meaning that closing GBCI would mean the state would have to find housing for the more than 1,000 inmates currently housed in Allouez.

But Gov. Tony Evers has been an advocate of having the state operate fewer prisons than it currently does.

Officials in northeastern Wisconsin, though, point out that the space that the 45 acres currently used as a prison could be far more beneficial to the area if used other than as a prison. State Rep. David Steffen, R-Howard, and Allouez Village President Jim Rafter have both pushed the prison site as an ideal spot for development, citing its proximity to the Fox River and Wisconsin 172.

Designed for 749 inmates, the prison housed 962 — 213 more than rated capacity — as of Jan. 27, DOC’s website says. When Steffen earlier proposed closing the prison, it was slightly more than 300 above its rated capacity.

The Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau in 2019 projected that it would cost $200 million to bring GBCI up to standards, and recommended that it be closed, the letter-writers said.

Other local officials signing letters advocating closure of the prison: Brown County Executive Troy Linienbach; Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich; state Sens. Robert Cowles, R-Allouez, and Andre Jacque, R-De Pere; state rep. David Steffen, R-Howard, and Kristina Shelton, D-Green Bay; and Ashwaubenon Village President Mary Kardoskee.

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