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Green Bay Correctional Institution: Chronic overcrowding

By Kris Leonhardt


Continued from previous edition: Click here

In April 1902, the reformatory was preparing for another addition, which was in dire need.

“The new cell house will accommodate, when completed, 192 prisoners, making cell room for a total of 296 inmates. The institution now has nearly 150 inmates and cell room for but 101, making it necessary for all first class prisoners to be allowed to sleep on cots arranges one above the other outside of the cells,“ an article in the Green Bay Semi-Weekly Gazette stated.

“In erecting this new cell building it will be necessary to change the present entrance, which will be located on the north side of the main building.”

Reformatory staff struggled with containing inmates over the first years, as unwilling young men sought out ways to escape.

But, the previous fall brought about a new means of escape and increased concerns for the reformatory staff.

“Fred Pinfold, an inmate of the Wisconsin state reformatory, was found dead in his cell… Pinfold had committed suicide by hanging, using a piece of suspender strap for the purpose,” the Semi Weekly Gazette stated of the man who had taken his life at just 20 years of age.

Staff had noticed Pinfold’s despondent demeanor in the weeks leading to his death and tried to aide him by giving him work outdoors, so he might reap the benefits of the sun and fresh air for his mental health.

Health and busyness became a focus for staff and administrators.

In 1902, the reformatory began work on establishing a brickyard on an adjoining farm for the intern to manufacture brick, first for the building of the new addition and later for contracting services.

In December, plans were made to construct a hospital and a new administration building at the cost of a quarter million.

The former office building would be allocated to use as a school, and an existing broom factory was to be expanded.

Construction on a 40×80-foot, stone and brick barn also began late that year.

By Sept. 1904, the reformatory was up to 238 inmates and looking to add more space.

By May 1905, the institution reached its 296 limit and closed its doors, sending letters out to Wisconsin county judges that all further commitments would be denied.

Meanwhile, a requested $110,000 in appropriations was made for an additional wing, powerhouse, machinery and improvements, but the asking price was high.

In 1907, Wisconsin enacted a law providing parole from prison by the board of control, with the governor’s approval, which helped but could only do so much.

Overcrowding persisted and in January 1909 work was finally underway on an addition, with lesser funding that was appropriated in 1907.

Overcrowding was again an issue in December 1914, as the board of control began to purchase beds to set up in corridors.

In October 1915, excavation began on a new cell wing, only to be put on hold as inmates were allocated for work on the Green Bay-De Pere concrete road.

Continued in an upcoming edition

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