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Bill that looks at closing Allouez prison gets public hearing

The Green Bay Correctional Institution. (WLUK/Tim Flanigan)

MADISON (WLUK) -- The Assembly Committee on Corrections held a public hearing Tuesday, on a bill that calls for closing the Green Bay Correctional Institution.

State Rep. David Steffen, R-Howard, introduced the bill last month and it is co-sponsored by State Sen. Frank Lasee, R-De Pere.

Under the plan, a private company would build the new prison then the state would lease the building and run it.

"The brick and mortar are privately owned, but the actual management, the staffing is still DOC employees," Steffen explained.

Steffen says leasing the prison would cost about $15 million a year, compared to the $19 million a year it would cost to maintain the current facility.

Gov. Scott Walker's two-year budget proposal includes $22.2 million for renovations to the current prison, something Steffen says could be saved under this plan.

"A 10-year forecast is $153 million in savings to the state all while we are unlocking $80 million worth of economic development in the Village of Allouez," added Steffen.

Some lawmakers at the hearing weren't sold on the idea yet.

"I'm skeptical that this proposal solves all the problems that we have in our prison system, and that everyone gets money off the deal and it all kumbaya, generally when something is too good to be true, it is," said State Rep. Evan Goyke, D- Milwaukee.

Other lawmakers at the hearing had concerns about a new prison being built in Brown County or one of the surrounding counties.

One of the state representative asked Steffen if all 72 counties could be consider for the location of a new prison.

The prison is currently located in Allouez, the village supports the bill.

"From a financial perspective, it would probably mean somewhere between $700, 000 and a million dollars a year in tax revenue to us," explained Jim Rafter, the Allouez Village President.

Some of the buildings within the prison are on the state's historic registry, the village says that provides endless opportunities.

"It could be a hotel, it could be an office building, it could be a really cool space, including the wall around the facility that's part of the contributing factor," explained Rafter.

Steffen says the current prison is designed to house 749 inmates, it currently houses 1,090 inmates.

Steffen explained a new prison would help ease overcrowding.

There have been several attack on correctional officers at the GBCI in the past year. The most recent attacks came this past weekend, when three correctional officers were taken to the hospital after they were attacked by an inmate.

Democratic State Sen. Dave Hansen, who represents the district GBCI is in, says he doesn't want the focus of a new prison to take away from other concerns at the current prison.

Hansen released the following statement:

“Rep. Steffen has put forth an interesting proposal. However, I am concerned that our political leaders will focus on a new prison that could be years away at a time when we need to make sure everything is being done to make GBCI safer for those officers and staff who currently work there. First and foremost I want to make sure we don’t shortchange the safety of those who put their lives on the line for us at GBCI. That means addressing overtime, making sure that we’re hiring the best officers possible and giving officers and staff a seat at the table when it comes to making decisions that affect their safety.”

Steffen says closing the prison and opening a new one could take five years.


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