OCONTO COUNTY, Wis. (WBAY) -- After years of reporting on the construction of a new Oconto County Jail, Action 2 news was given the first access to the jail in an exclusive tour before it opened to the public Thursday.
A ceremony to open the Oconto County Law Enforcement Center had state lawmakers, county judges and local officials reflecting on the transformation Oconto has seen in just a few short years.
"There were fourteen homes here about four years ago, but we bought those and demolished them, so it looks completely different,” Oconto County Administrator Kevin Hamann told Action 2 News.
The new jail opens to inmates in July and the county's current overpopulation problems will be eliminated— saving the county the cost of housing inmates in other jails as the population has grown.
"When I started here twenty years ago it was in the twenties. Now it's in the 80s. In this facility we can hold 175 with an addition up to 250,” Hamann said of the Oconto County inmate population.
The county will now have room to house inmates from overcrowded jails like Forest, Brown and Marinette. “They are other neighboring counties that have helped us—and hopefully I'll be able to help them if needed,” said Oconto County Sheriff Mike Jansen.
The new jail has several volunteer rehab, treatment, and education programs, which weren't provided before because there wasn't space. Experts say the security of this jail is some of the best in the state.
"The safety is going to be ten-fold better,” Oconto County Jail Administrator Carol Kopp told Action 2 News. “Not only will professional visitors not be allowed to go into the jail property, but now they have their own entrance and access to the visitation booths."
An all-digital visitation set-up is going to eliminate contraband smuggling into the jail.
"Families can either come here to the Oconto County Jail and visit via the monitor into the housing units, or they can go ahead and for a very small fee-- do that right from their homes,” said Kopp.
The fee is around $5.
The public is open to check out the new jail (without being arrested!) at an open house scheduled for Saturday from 10-3.
Inmates will begin moving in mid-July. For safety reasons, that date will not be disclosed.