Outagamie County site chosen for new youth prison facility

TOWN OF HORTONIA, Wis. (WBAY) - A new youth prison facility will be built in the Town of Hortonia, just outside New London.

The announcement was made Tuesday by the administration of Gov. Tony Evers.

The location, near Wisconsin Highway 15 and US Highway 45. was recommended by a committee because it is close to families of young people in the Department of Corrections.

CLICK HERE to review the committee documents.

The governor's office says this facility, along with another announced in the Milwaukee area, advance plans to close the troubled Lincoln Hills complex in Irma, north of Wausau.

CLICK HERE for renderings of the facility.

“We are committed to getting kids out of Lincoln Hills and closer to home as soon as we safely and responsibly can,” said Gov. Evers. “Today’s announcements show significant action towards our shared goal of ensuring kids get the education, programming and mental health treatment they need in supportive settings that are closer to their families and communities.”

The "Type 1" facility will be able to house 32 young people. It will employ about 70 people.

"In terms of justice reform, we have been working on this for at least 10 years," says Outagamie County Executive Thomas Nelson. "We have a statewide and national reputation, whether it's our treatment courts, like drug treatment, veteran court, mental health court. We have been very successful in keeping communities safe, keeping families together and saving money, so this will give us the opportunity to sit down with the state hopefully to find ways in which we can partner and collaborate for the benefit of all concerned."

State Sen. Robert Cowles (R-Green Bay) supported closing Lincoln Hills. He says the governor's Hortonia announcement came as a surprise to him.

"I knew the principle of putting a prison somewhere in northeast Wisconsin, I knew it was coming, but didn’t know that site was being considered," Cowles says.

He wants the Evers administration to talk to the community and listen to their concerns.

"I am urging the administration to do extensive outreach to the local government folks, to the town of Hortonia, to the village of New London and at a minimum, you got to do that," Cowles says.

Nelson believes the site is the right fit for the new youth facility.

"This really is a great location for the state, considering the resources. We have Fox Valley Tech which has a number of really good, top rated programs in criminal justice. We have our airport. $35 million public safety complex where we have people all over come here for training," Nelson says. "So I think the state is going to find this really is a good area if you are looking for resources, personnel, experience, professionals in criminal justice."

Cowles says the state owns the property, but lawmakers will need to gain acceptance from the people who live nearby.

"It’s barren land where they are envisioning putting this, so to build a facility it will take some time," Cowles says.

New London Mayor Gary Henke was accepting of the news in a statement to Action 2 News: "We don’t have any details on the project as of this time. However, months ago when the possibility of a Juvenile Detention facility was brought up for this site we as a City see a positive benefit for our area. More jobs, more people moving into the area and don’t see a negative."

The governor has appointed Wisconsin Rep. David Crowley to chair the Act 185 Juvenile Corrections Grant Committee. The committee will determine where grants should go for construction.

“Research shows that children in incarceration make significant strides toward positive change when they are closer to their communities and loved ones,” said DOC Secretary-designee Kevin Carr. “I look forward to working with the Grant Committee and Wisconsin counties to develop a network of local opportunities to support our youth.”

This is the criteria the committee considered in choosing Hortonia:

--Number of youth
--Proximity to families
--Workforce availability
--Proximity to tribes
--Possibility of third facility
--Industry/vocational opportunities
--Availability of services
--Amount of land
--Proximity to technical colleges and universities
--Community resources
--Existing facilities