Our Crowded Prisons

Ellsworth Prison at 213% of Capacity

U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that no more than 137% is acceptable.

By , Wisconsin Justice Initiative - Jan 11th, 2018 04:02 pm
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Robert E. Ellsworth Correctional Center. Photo from the Department of Corrections.

Robert E. Ellsworth Correctional Center. Photo from the Department of Corrections.

The Robert E. Ellsworth Correctional Center for women has more than twice as many inmates as it was designed to hold. The Prairie du Chien Correctional Institution is operating at 156% of capacity.

(When the U.S. Supreme Court told California to reduce its prison population, the Court said the state could not run its prisons at more than 137% of capacity. )

At the very crowded Marshall E. Sherrer Center (175% of capacity) in Milwaukee, the lack of space means inmates don’t get needed re-entry programming. Sherrer also has inadequate refrigeration for food, according to a Department of Corrections budget request.

The Legislature and Gov. Walker rejected the request, instead appointing a committee to study prison needs.

This is part 6 in our series on Wisconsin prisons, how crowded they are, and what the Department of Corrections said is needed to improve, repair, and maintain them.

Here is Part 1Part 2,  Part 3,  Part 4, and Part 5.

As always, this primer does not really address the consequences of the crowding and physical shortcomings of the institutions – the impacts on inmates and staff. But we sure hope you will keep them in mind as you consider the price of mass incarceration.

Source: Department of Corrections Offenders Under Control on Jan. 5, 2018

Source: Department of Corrections Offenders Under Control on Jan. 5, 2018

Institution: Prairie du Chien Correctional Institution, Prairie du Chien
Classification:  Medium security

Capital budget request: None

Source: Department of Corrections Offenders Under Control on Jan. 5, 2018

Source: Department of Corrections Offenders Under Control on Jan. 5, 2018

Institution: Marshall E. Sherrer Correctional Center, Milwaukee

Classification:  Minimum security

Capital budget request: $26,718,000

Status: Rejected

From the request: This project would construct a new male correctional center of approximately 53,000 GSF, which will include housing to accommodate 200 inmates, food preparation and dining, visiting, programming, classroom, health services unit, temporary lock-up cell, active and passive recreation, staff offices, basement, and storage. …

The Marshall E. Sherrer Correctional Center  was constructed in 1980 to house 30 inmates and now houses 58. Based on the number of inmates who will release to Milwaukee County, a recommendation to increase the number of beds at the center was documented in the 2009 10- year plan. Currently the only program/educational area available is the dining area, which also serves as the center’s visiting room. Due to the lack of existing inmate activity space in the center, inmates are not able to have regular access to reentry programming which is critical to successful reentry. Construction of this facility will provide additional 142-beds to place minimum security inmates with jobs in the community and provide skills to inmates to allow for a more effective transition into the community. 

A number of concerns with the existing facility have been identified and are as follows:

  • The existing kitchen space, equipment, storage space, and refrigeration are inadequate.
  • The Center has insufficient storage space for perishable and frozen foods.  A walk-in cooler and freezer does not exist. The dining room also serves as training area, meeting/conference room and visiting area. 
  • The existing HSU is located in the administrative area which not only uses needed clerical and records space, but requires that inmates frequently enter the administration space. 
  • The current entry vestibule contains a small room which was originally designed as a shakedown room.  This shakedown room is currently being utilized as the holding area for inmates being placed into Temporary Lockup status. 
  • The existing building has a crawl space and no basement and no inside storage space.  Most important, a basement would become an emergency shelter for periods of severe weather and any other potential emergencies that require evacuation.  Old semi-trailers and wood sheds are used to store center supplies, such as, clothing, paper products, and maintenance supplies. 

The department could continue with the current “older” facility, but this does not increase capacity nor does it address the fact that programs continue to operate at less than optimum efficiency due to a shortage of space.

Another alternative would be to provide additional space outside of Milwaukee County.  However, it is important for offenders who previously lived in the community to be given the opportunity to re-establish family relationships and support mechanism within the community to which they will be released. The department could continue with the current “older” facility, but this does not increase capacity nor does it address the fact that programs continue to operate at less than optimum efficiency due to a shortage of space.

Source: Department of Corrections Offenders Under Control on Jan. 5, 2018

Source: Department of Corrections Offenders Under Control on Jan. 5, 2018

Institution: Robert E. Ellsworth Correctional Center, Union Grove

Classification:  Minimum security

Capital budget request: None

Gretchen Schuldt writes a blog for Wisconsin Justice Initiative, whose mission is “To improve the quality of justice in Wisconsin by educating the public about legal issues and encouraging civic engagement in and debate about the judicial system and its operation.

One thought on “Our Crowded Prisons: Ellsworth Prison at 213% of Capacity”

  1. Terry says:

    Wisconsin cannot afford its current prison industrial complex yet instead of focusing on much needed criminal justice reform republicans just want to build more prisons. The only good thing that could come from that is we would finally have somewhere to put all these republican charlatans!

    DUMP WALKER 2018!!
    DUMP ALL REPUBLICANS 2018!!

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