State lawmaker's plan for replacing Green Bay prison

ALLOUEZ, Wis. (WBAY) - Shutting down the Green Bay Correctional Institution and building a new one nearby is not a new conversation. But this week state Rep. David Steffen (R-Howard) says he'll introduce his bill to the Legislature to turn the current facility into something that can make Brown County actual revenue.

(WBAY file)

His remedy is to decommission the prison facility in Allouez and turn it into residential or retail space or a mix of the two, and have a new prison privately built in Brown County.

Steffen says his proposal is a solution to more than one problem.

He says helping the overcrowding issues facing Wisconsin's prison system is a priority.

"We can transition to a new future, one that does meet the needs of the Department of Corrections, better serves the inmates, better serves those who work there, and oh by the way unlocks $80 million worth of economic development for this community," said Steffen.

Although a location for a new prison has yet to be determined, Steffen wants it to be privately built and owned. The state would lease the space, and it would be run by state employees.

"When you look at a bid price tag on this type of thing to build it, it's the bonding. And as we've all seen, the governor is committed to keeping our bonding rates low. Well, how do you ever get past that if you have to bond for a new expensive prison? Well, the option is to lease."

Steffen says over the next decade operating expenses at Green Bay Correctional will top $400 million. Operations at a new facility would cost about $380 million over the same span while the old property brings in revenue for the county.

Some area leaders agree.

"Allouez today, 30 percent of our property is tax-exempt, including the current facility sits on, we don't receive any tax revenue from that," Allouez Village President Jim Rafter said.

"From the county's perspective, of course, we look at any time we're able to develop and increase the overall tax value of this community as important," County Executive Troy Streckenbach said.

Steffen says this is a five-year plan. He'd like to see a new prison in use by 2022. He thinks it would be a competitive sale if the current prison facility is up for grabs.

He says companies that come to mind to build and lease the new prison are Core Civic or Geo Group. He says both have experience building maximum-security prisons.

Steffen adds that construction would require a minimum of 100 beds outside of maximum security that would be used specifically to accept overflow inmates from crowded county jails.

The Joint Finance Committee is scheduled to consider the bill on Wednesday.