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Dictionary of Wisconsin History

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Term: prisons in Wisconsin


 The earliest facilities for incarceration in Wisconsin were jails constructed after the War of 1812 in the U.S. Army forts at Green Bay, Portage, and Prairie du Chien; early settlers in some communities also built local jails. After Wisconsin became a state in 1848, it established a state prison at Waupun which opened in July 1851. It housed adult men and women until 1933, when a separate women's prison was built, and it remains the state's best-known prison facility. In 1898 the Wisconsin State Reformatory at Green Bay opened for first offenders between the ages of 16 and 30; it later became an adult maximum security facility which since1979 has been called the Green Bay Correctional Institution.

A House of Refuge for Juvenile Delinquents was authorized in 1857 at Waukesha; in 1871 it became the Industrial School for Boys after a group of concerned citizens founded a separate facility for girls in Milwaukee. This Wisconsin Industrial School for Girls was turned over to the state in 1917; in 1941 it moved to Oregon, in Dane Co., where it operated until 1976. A separate reformatory for women was planned as early as 1911 and land for it was found at Taycheedah, in Fond du Lac Co., in 1913, but it did not accept its first inmates until 1921; this Industrial Home for Women housed inmates between the ages of 18 and 30 who had committed misdemeanors for the first time. In 1933 it was expanded to accommodate women offenders from the state prison at Waupun, and in 1976 became known as the Taycheedah Correctional Institution.

Many other penal and reform institutions have operated in the state. In 1911 a Hospital for the Criminally Insane was begun at Waupun; this operated under various names until 1983, when its patients were moved to the Winnebago Mental Health Institute. In the 1960s, several rural prisons and reformatories were combined into the Wisconsin Correctional Camp System, and in 1962 the Wisconsin Correctional Institution opened at Fox Lake as the nation's first modern medium security prison for men. In subsequent decades the size and number of Wisconsin prisons and juvenile facilities continued to expand, culminating in the $47.5 million, 500-bed "Supermax" prison for the most dangerous and disruptive inmates, which opened in Boscobel in 1999. The same year, new facilities were begun in Milwaukee, New Lisbon, and Redgranite, each housing about 1,000 prisoners.

Administratively, Wisconsin prisons were overseen by a variety of different agencies over the last 150 years. The State Board of Charities and Reform was created in 1871 to coordinate operations at state institutions; it could only inspect, visit, and make recommendations for changes while the institutions were run by independent authorities. Ten years later prisons came under the State Board of Supervision which in 1891 became part of the new State Board of Control of Wisconsin Reformatory, Charitable and Penal Institutions. This survived until 1939 when its functions were taken over by a Division of Corrections in a new State Department of Public Welfare. In 1990 responsibilities for adult offenders were transferred to a new Dept. of Corrections, while prisons for juvenile offenders became part of the Division of Youth Services in the Dept. of Health and Social Services.

For more information, view the official reports by supervisors of the Wisconsin prison system and reformatory facilities in the Wisconsin Blue Book, published on paper every two years since the 1850s and online at the University of Wisconsin Digital Collections.

[Source: Source: A Brief History of the Department of Corrections ( (Madison, Wis.?: Wisconsin Dept. of Corrections, 2002?)]

115 records found

Packing-the-rigging (logging)
Packs (logging)
paczki (food)
pad (farming)
paddock (farming)
Pail and Shovel Party
Paleoindian culture (archaeology)
panary (farming)
Panic of 1837
pantograph (railroads)
paper industry in Wisconsin
Paramount records
parfleche (Fr.)
Parkman Club
parole (military)
parterre (farming)
pastern (farming)
pasteurization (dairy)
pays d'en haut (Fr.)
Pearl Fishing
Pearl-diver (logging)
Peavey (logging)
peavey (logging)
Peckatonica River
pelleterie (Fr.)
per diem (railroads)
perche (Fr.)
period revival (architecture)
Perryville, Battle of
Peshtigo Fire
Petersburg, Siege of
Petrified Man Hoax
Pewit's Nest
Phoenix (shipwreck, 1847)
piastre (Fr.)
Piastre (Fr.)
Picture(d) Rocks, Michigan
Pie-fork (logging)
piece (Fr.)
pied (Fr.)
Pike Creek
Pike-pole (logging)
pillage (Civil War)
pilothouse (maritime)
Pine Bend
pinte (Fr.)
pirogue (Fr.)
pistole (Fr.)
piston (railroads)
plank road
plants, native
plate (maritime)
Platoon (Civil War)
pledget (farming)
plomb (Fr.)
Plumb Plan
plunder (Civil War)
plus (Fr.)
Pokelogan (logging)
Pole-ax (logging)
Political Equality League
pollard (farming)
pontoon (Civil War)
pony boiler (maritime)
Poor-box (logging)
population of Wisconsin, 1820-1990
port (maritime)
Port Gibson, Battle of
Port Hudson, Siege of
Portage City Guards (Civil War)
pot (Fr.)
Potosi Badgers (Civil War)
Potter Law (1874)
pottery and earthenware industry in Wisconsin
pouce (Fr.)
Prairie du Chien, Battle of (1814)
Prairie Grove, Battle of
Prairie School (architecture)
Pre-exemption Law (1841)
Presidential Visits to Madison
primary elections in Wisconsin
primary rocks (mining)
prisons in Wisconsin
private (Civil War)
Prize-logs (logging)
probang (farming)
Progressive Movement
Project Sanguine
Puan, Puans, Puants
puddingstone (mining)
Punk (logging)
put about (maritime)
pyrites (mining)

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