The head of Wisconsin corrections says more space is needed to put people in prison. Department of Corrections Secretary Jon Litscher told a Senate committee that the state houses 23,000 inmates, and that number is growing. “Since I returned (to head DOC) in March of 2016, we have a net growth of 35 new offenders every month,” Litscher said.
Litscher noted that the oldest prisons at Green Bay and Waupun are over 100 years old, and said he’s not ruling out anything on new space, including public-private partnerships. “To disavow any relationship or any partnership at this time I think would be counterproductive,” he said.
Under a provision in the latest state budget, a special committee will address DOC’s short-and long-term needs.
“There are going to be ideas that we present from our department professional staff that will come quicker,” Litscher said. “To be candid with you, we will need some relief, and we will need it sooner than 2020.”
Also on Thursday, the Senate Government Operations, Technology and Consumer Protection heard from a Brown County county lawmaker who has proposed a bill that would close Green Bay Correctional Institution and build a new, private prison the state could lease.
Representative David Steffen said that a recent study found the state would have to invest some $220 million into upgrades at the 119-year-old Green Bay prison over the next ten years — and that now is the time to replace it. “Time is money. Time is very big money at GBCI. We just put $22.2 million in this budget . . . to go into a facility that I think there isn’t a person in this room, and certainly not in the 4th Assembly District, doesn’t think should be closed.”
Steffen says closing and replacing the prison could save the state $115 million dollars. “We’re going to continue to drive taxpayer money into a hole,” if the prison isn’t replaced, Steffen said.