Agency Primer by IRG:
Wisconsin’s Department of Corrections
Wisconsin recognized the need for a prison shortly after becoming a state and chose Waupun as the site of the first prison in 1851, with the construction of a temporary building. Inmates living at this temporary building began building the South Cell Hall, the first permanent prison building which was completed in 1854. This building is still in use today. The first juvenile facility, the House of Refuge in Waukesha was added in 1857. In 1909, the first parole agent was hired, a precursor to the Division of Community Supervision.
State prisons were administered under a series of different authorities prior to 1990. Initially there was a State Prison Commissioner, then the State Board of Directors appointed a warden. In the late 1800s authority was transferred between a variety of state boards including State Board of Charities and Reform in 1881, the State Board of Supervisors of Charitable, Reformatory and Penal Institutions in 1891, and then the State Board of Control in 1896.
A Division of Corrections was created within the Department of Public Welfare in 1939. This Division was transferred to the Department of Health and Social Services in 1967. The Department of Corrections became a cabinet level agency in 1990 when the Division of Corrections was split out of the Department of Health and Social Services.
The creation of a new agency was needed because of the growth in the number of correctional institutions, inmates and offenders needing supervision. Between 1990 and 2000, 6 new correctional institutions were built and additional housing capacity was added at several existing institutions. During this time inmates were also sent to facilities outside Wisconsin due to lack of capacity at state prisons.
In 1992, the DOC had approximately 4800 employees and a budget of $250 million per year. Today, the DOC has more than 10,000 employees and spends over $1 billion per year. In 1992, there were 8600 inmates, today there are more than 20,000; there were 49,000 offenders on probation and parole, today there are more than 60,000 offenders on community supervision.
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