Gov. Tony Evers said Wednesday that his forthcoming budget won’t call for replacing a century-old prison near Green Bay, an overcrowded structure that an area lawmaker calls the state’s most dangerous.
Evers’ comments came as his pick to oversee the state’s corrections system went before legislative leaders on Wednesday. Evers has promised to overhaul the state’s criminal-justice system. He wants, for instance, to reduce the prison population by as much as half.
Wisconsin’s overcrowded adult prison system is running 32 percent over capacity. As recently as last week, it had 23,636 inmates in a system designed to hold only 17,867.
Lawmakers, economic development officials and other leaders in the Green Bay area have long been pushing for closing the century-old Green Bay Correctional Institution, which is in Allouez. Local officials want to bring new development to the site, and lawmakers have called for a replacement to be built in a nearby municipality.
But Evers told reporters that his budget, to be released next week, will have no money for a new prison in or near Green Bay.
“It’s something we have to weigh but it will not be part of the budget,” he said.
Evers had previously suggested that he’d be open to replacing the prison. In an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in January, Evers said although it would seem to make little sense to build a new prison while whittling down the state’s incarcerated population, the Green Bay prison “seemingly” needs to be replaced. The state has pegged the cost of building a new prison at about $309 million.
A vocal proponent of replacing the prison, Rep. David Steffen, R-Green Bay, said on Wednesday he was optimistic the state Legislature would ultimately find a way to set aside money for the project in the next biennial budget. He said a forthcoming Corrections Facilities Planning Committee report, which was mandated in the state’s current budget, is likely to drive home the need for a new prison. A draft of the report, which was supposed to come out last fall, hasn’t been published yet, but is likely to be released “imminently,” Steffen said. A final version is expected in the next 30 days.
“Once that report comes out, it will substantiate everything,” Steffen said.
Steffen and others have long called the Green Bay Correctional Institution, a maximum security facility, the state’s most dangerous prison. Worker shortages along with attacks on employees and inmates have prompted frequent lockdowns. The prison opened in 1898 and, after undergoing expansions, can now hold about 700 inmates, but typically runs over capacity by about 300.
Steffen said it could cost more than $200 million over 10 years to repair the Green Bay prison, which would remain inefficient despite that work. Older prisons, he said, require more staff to operate than new ones and can pose greater dangers. A replacement, he said, would require between 30 percent and 40 percent fewer staff members, saving between $8 million and $10 million in personnel costs a year.
– The Associated Press contributed to this article Follow @natebeck9