Department History

1851 – A three member commission sites a prison in Waupun because of its proximity to transportation and the readily available building materials in the area. A temporary 40-bed building is constructed.

1852 – Henry Brown becomes first Commissioner of the prison. By the end of the year, there are 27 inmates in the facility, including two females.

1853 – Inmates are paid to begin construction on South Cell Hall, the first permanent building at The Prison. It is remodeled in 1940 and is still in use today.

1853 – Wisconsin abolishes the death penalty, following Michigan and Rhode Island, as the third state to do so. (Pennsylvania abolished the death penalty in 1793, but reinstated it in the early 1800s.)

1854 - The South Cell Hall is completed with 288 cells at a cost of $325 per cell. By year’s end, the population is listed as 66 males and five female prisoners.

1854 - A nine-year old boy is sentenced to Waupun State Prison for larceny. A plan for a juvenile facility in Waukesha gains support.

1857 – The juvenile facility in Waukesha becomes a permanent institution under the original title, House of Refuge. It will later be known by various names including the State Reform School, the Industrial School for Boys, and finally, the Waukesha School for Boys.

1862 – A cabinet shop is opened in the prison. In the next ten years, the prison will add a shoe shop, a tailor shop, a wagon factory, and an expansion to the cabinet shop for other furniture and chairs. By 1878, the revenues will be sufficient to allow the prison to run without drawing appropriations from the state’s treasury. A knitting industry is added in 1893, a twine plant in 1912, a cannery in 1915, a license plate operation in 1917, a print shop in the early 1920s, and a laundry in 1940. The laundry, license plate, wood and metal furniture, printing and signage, silk-screening, and tailoring operations survive to this day at the prison.

1867 - Due to the increase in prisoners, the North Cell hall is built adding another 240 cells at a cost of $189 per cell. There are now 528 cells with a population of 180 male prisoners.

1868 - A school is organized under the direction of the Chaplain. Black and white striped uniforms worn by inmates are abolished.

1873 – The elected office of State Prison Commissioner is abolished, and the prison is placed under the supervision of the State Board of Directors who appoints a warden. The Board of Directors is replaced by the State Board of Charities and Reform in 1881. In 1891, the State Board of Supervisors of Charitable, Reformatory and Penal Institutions takes over, but is replaced by the State Board of Control in 1896. A Division of Corrections is created inside the Department of Public Welfare to administer the system in 1939. The 1967 Reorganization Act transfers the Division to the Department of Health and Social Services. It remains there until it becomes its own Department in 1990.

1875 - Industrial School for Girls is established in Milwaukee by a group of concerned women. The state assumes control of the operation in 1917.

1885 - One hundred and twelve acres is purchased about one mile from the prison for a farm.

1886 - The first issue of "The Waupun Prison Press" is published. It is the first and only newspaper operated by inmates in the U.S.

1889 - Board of Supervisors are given the paroling authority for inmates. First and second degree murder sentences were excluded. Six inmates are paroled in 1890.

1892 - Three convicts serving life sentences tunneled from the laundry, under the wall and escaped. They were captured the next morning.

1894 - Electrical lights are installed throughout Wisconsin State Prison (WSP). The first multiple pose photographs of inmates are taken.

1897 - A convict work crew from the WSP is sent to Allouez (Green Bay) to erect the Wisconsin State Reformatory (WSR).

1898 – By close of the year, the WSR houses 24 inmates young inmates sent from Waupun. The Reformatory is intended to house inmates 17-30 years old. Its purpose is to rehabilitate young men through the teaching of trades, general education, and steady work. Warden John I. Roberts of Waupun introduces a system of grading prisoners, dividing all inmates into three security grades with more privileges for good behavior.

1907 - A law is enacted providing for the parole of prisoners from the prison by the Board of Control with the approval of the Governor.

1908 - An inmate band is established at the Prison. The Reformatory will follow suit in 1917. The band at the prison plays on the recreation field, during meals and gives public concerts in the front yard.

1909 - The first parole agent in Wisconsin is appointed. Overcrowding has lead to the building of the Northwest Cell Hall at WSP. Cost per cell is $390.

1912 - A baseball field is opened at WSP. By 1923, inmates play Saturday ball games with outside teams. The first ball of twine was turned out from the new twine plant.

1913 - Construction begins on the Industrial Home for Women at Taycheedah. Convicts from WSP are sent to what is then known as Camp Woodward to build the prison. It opens in 1921.

1914 – Begun in 1911, enough construction is completed on the Hospital for the Criminally Insane to accept inmates at what will become known as Central State Hospital. Motion pictures are introduced at WSP on Saturday afternoons. The projector was a hand turned Edison machine operated by James Murray, a prison guard. The WSR follows suit in 1918. The Southwest Cell Hall is completed at the Prison bringing the cell capacity to 952.

1916 - Work begins on the permanent wall at WSR. The wall, which will be 22 feet high, two feet thick at the base and one foot thick at the top, will not be completed until 1923.

1917 - WSP purchases machinery and equipment and begins to manufacture license plates.

1924 - The Psychiatric Field Service, a new state agency, is organized to gain insight into crime, delinquency, and treatment programs based on psychological evaluation.

1925 - Minimum security Prison Conservation and Reforestation Camps are opened as prison industries. By 1931, there will be 11 camps and 425 men working outside the prison walls.

1932 - A full-time education director is hired at WSP but inmates still do all of the teaching. Cottages are finished at the new School for Girls but remain vacant for almost a decade due to the economic depression of the country.

1932 - The Parole Department is united with the State Probation Department, giving the system the benefit of the services of 10 probation officers.

1933 - A State Prison for Women is completed at Taycheedah. It is operated on the same grounds as the Home for Women. A legislative committee proposes the use of northern camps to house certain types of inmates to relieve overcrowding at WSP and WSR. The inmates will be used for fighting forest fires and other conservation tasks.

1936 - During an attempted escape, one inmate is shot in the leg and another is shot in both legs and the abdomen. This is the first break in the history of WSP in which a prisoner was shot.

1937 - In-service training begins for prison employees.

1938 – John C. Burke is appointed warden of WSP. He is instrumental in abolishing the Silent System, installing lights in cells, and allowing inmates to shave themselves, see visitors, and attend parole school

1941 - Wisconsin School for Girls opens at Oregon. It is converted to Oakhill Correctional Institution in 1977. Five hundred to 1,000 WSP inmates went on a hunger and sit-down strike in protest over the prison's food. The prisoners told Warden John Burke that bologna and sausage were served too often and that the food needed better preparation. Inmates return to work after Warden Burke promises to look into the matter.

1942 – A new radio system links all WSP cells and offers the inmates a choice of two AM stations.

1947 - McNaughton Correctional Center opens. It was originally built in 1917 as a tuberculosis rehabilitation center. Today, some of the original structures are on the National Register of Historic Buildings.

1951 - Sanger B. Powers is appointed Warden at the Reformatory. He is instrumental in making many changes at WSR, including the complete elimination of the silent system. Educational, vocational, social and clinical services are expanded. Wisconsin becomes the first state to pass sex crimes laws.

1952 - Classification becomes an administrative vehicle by which treatment resources are delivered to inmates. Wisconsin institutes first program in the U.S. to treat sex offenders.

1952 - Gordon Correctional Center opens. The center is located in a remote forest area several miles from the City of Gordon in the Brule River State Forest.

1955 – Sanger B. Powers appointed Administrator of Division of Corrections. Rehabilitation of inmates based on the medical model becomes the ideal.

1957 - A 50-bed maximum security special management unit is built at Waupun. The building, the first of its kind in the state is intended to house malcontents from the general population.

1959 - Ethan Allen School (EAS) for Boys is opened in Wales.

1962 - The Wisconsin Correctional Institution opens at Fox Lake. It is the nation's first modern medium security prison for men.

1962 – The new Wisconsin School for Boys is opened at Plymouth. In 1974, it is converted to a medium security prison and later named Kettle Moraine Correctional Institution (KMCI). A pre-release center opens at Elkhorn in Walworth County, on the site of a former military base.

1962 – The Wisconsin Correctional Camp System (WCCS) is established by legislative act and includes Gordon, McNaughton, Winnebago, Flambeau, Thompson and Oregon. Flambeau Correctional Center was originally opened in 1956 as a juvenile center. A modern camp is opened in Black River Falls.

1963 - Administrative structure in the prison system changes from warden and deputy warden to warden with three departments, each headed by an associate warden.

1969 - Two hundred and fifty inmates stage a four hour disturbance on the recreation field at Waupun to protest an increase in the state's cigarette tax and low wages. Several shots are fired when inmates threaten to burn down the laundry. There are no injuries to staff or inmates.

1970 - Lincoln School for Boys opens at Irma. When it is renamed Lincoln Hills School, it becomes a co-ed institution.

1971 - Inmates at the Wisconsin Home for Women riot. There is extensive damage and three staff members were injured. The disturbance is linked to Governor Lucey's remarks on treatment of inmates there and plans to close the facility. Wisconsin Correctional Institution at Fox Lake offers the first certified vocational programs.

1971 - Oregon Correctional Center opens. It is located near the Wisconsin School for Girls between Madison and Oregon. At WSR, two to four hundred inmates riot due to rumors of guards beating inmates, six guards and three inmates are injured. Fire caused extensive damage and a dormitory building is destroyed by fire. Order was restored in 30 minutes.

1972 – The Reformatory becomes an adult maximum security prison as the last juveniles are released or transferred from Green Bay.

1973 - Black River Correctional Center is opened as an adult facility. The facility was built in 1962 as a camp and had been used as a juvenile detention center.

1973 – A youthful offender facility is completed in Oxford. It is sold to the federal government.

1974 - The Winnebago Correctional Center opens.

1975 - Conversion of Central State Hospital to a prison begins. It will be completed in 1983 and named Dodge Correctional Institution (DCI). DCI will serve as the central reception center for all adult males and females. Wisconsin Home for Women is renamed Taycheedah Correctional Institution (TCI) and begins to house male inmates in a co-ed setting. The institution will be reverted back to a female facility in 1978.

1975 – The first substance abuse program opens in leased space at the Winnebago Mental Health Institute to provide services for up to 200 inmates per year.

1976 - The School for Girls at Oregon is closed and the girls are moved to a building at Mendota Mental Health Institute and then to Lincoln Hills, a co-ed facility for juveniles, in 1977. The School for Girls at Oregon is converted to an adult-male correctional camp called Oakwood State Camp. It will later become Oakhill Correctional.

1977 – Corrections Industries (now Badger State Industries) re-organizes to run like a private industry.

1981 - Corrections Alcohol and Drug Abuse Treatment Center opens on the grounds of the Winnebago Mental Health Institute.

1981 - In an effort to deal with overcrowding at Green Bay and WSP, inmates are transferred to prison beds at Stillwater and St. Cloud, Minnesota. The average daily population has reached 3,821 adults in Wisconsin institutions. The Division of Corrections is supervising 19,502 adults on probation and parole and has 3,240 employees.

1981 - Marshall E. Sherrer Correctional Center opens in Milwaukee.

1982 - The first seven week pre-service class for correctional officers began at the Corrections Training Center in Oshkosh. The Wisconsin Resource Center (WRC) opens at the Winnebago Mental Health Institute in Oshkosh. Sanger B. Powers Correctional Center opens near Oneida and replaces Camp Oneida formally run by the Green Bay Reformatory.

1985 - The Wisconsin Correctional Camp System (WCCS) becomes the Wisconsin Correctional Center System (WCCS) combining all minimum security facilities, including camps, community centers and the drug abuse treatment center.

1986 - The concept of unit management, consisting of decentralized management of inmate programming and treatment is implemented at Lincoln Hills School.

1986 - Oshkosh Correctional Institution (OSCI), a 300 bed medium security facility for men is opened in Oshkosh. Columbia Correctional Institution (CCI), 450 bed maximum security facility for men, is opened in Portage.

1988 - Electronic monitoring for parole supervision is established.

1990 - The Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC) is established as a cabinet level agency headed by a Secretary appointed by the Governor.

1990 - Kenosha Correctional Center, a 60-bed minimum security facility for men opens. A 100-bed sex offender unit is added to the OSCI. John C. Burke Correctional Center, a 161-bed minimum security facility for men opens in Waupun. It replaces the old Bunkhouse. Wisconsin Challenger Incarceration, a boot camp program, is established at St. Croix Correctional Center.

1991 - Racine Correctional Institution (RCI), a 650-bed institution for men opens in Sturtevant.

1991 - St. Croix Correctional Center opens.

1994 - Legislation creating a Youthful Offender Intensive Sanctions program is signed into law. A 50-bed expansion opens at the Atherton Correctional Center. RCI is expanded with 200 new beds.

1995 - A 500-bed expansion opens at DCI. The expansion includes a 50-bed segregation unit, 64-bed infirmary and a 50-bed female reception unit. A 34-bed maximum security housing unit is added at TCI.

1995 - Jackson Correctional Institution (JCI), a new 450-bed medium security prison, opens at Black River Falls. An expansion of 450 new beds opens at OSCI. Dormitory housing is added at OSCI and KMCI, adding 300 additional beds to the system.

1996 - JCI is expanded with 150 new beds.

1996 – Near the end of this year, the State of Wisconsin sends inmates to out-of-state contract facilities. The first inmates go to county jails in Texas. Over the next several years, inmates are sent to privately-owned facilities in Tennessee, Oklahoma, Minnesota, and Mississippi.

1997 - Dormitory housing is added at six existing prisons, adding 1,200 new beds. WI Act 440 goes into effect implementing the Sex Offender Registry and Community Notification Law. The new law will require people convicted of any of about two dozen sex-related crimes to register with DOC for 15 years after finishing their prison terms.

1997 - Racine Youthful Offender Correctional Facility (RYOCF) opens in Racine. The 400 new beds are geared towards dealing with younger, more disruptive inmates.

1997 – Converted from a private school, Prairie du Chien Correctional Institution, originally purchased by the State as a boys’ Juvenile Institution, opens as an adult facility for 300 males, ages 15-21, due to a decrease in juvenile corrections populations.

1998 - A new 180-bed segregation unit and a modern health services unit opens at WCI. The segregation building replaces the former Adjustment Center which opened in the late 1950's. The unit is remodeled and used for a cognitive intervention programming unit.

1999 - Ground breaking ceremonies take place in Milwaukee for a new 1,000 bed detention and drug treatment center for DOC. Ceremonies are also held at Redgranite and New Lisbon for new medium security institutions. There are currently 64,634 persons under the supervision of probation and parole. DAI has 18,940 persons in institutions with an additional 4,259 in contract beds, including out-of-state facilities.

1999 - The $47.5 million, 500-bed Supermax prison, designed to house the most dangerous and disruptive inmates, opens in Boscobel. The single story, four unit prison is designed to house inmates in single isolated cells. The perimeter is surrounded by a lethal electrified fence.

2000 – The Milwaukee Men’s Pre-Release Center opens. It will be renamed the Felmers O. Chaney Correctional Center. It is occupied by inmates from the Abode Correctional Center and St. John’s Correctional Center. These facilities are no longer used by the DOC as correctional centers.

2001 - Redgranite Correctional Institution, a 750 bed capacity facility, opens and within a year will house close to a 1,000 inmates.

2001 - The Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility, a 1,048 bed institution intended primarily for probation and parole holds opens with 200 beds dedicated for AODA treatment. Located in downtown Milwaukee, it is the first highrise correctional institution in the state.

2001 - The State of Wisconsin purchases the Stanley Institution from the Dominion Corporation which had built the facility on speculation in Stanley.

2002 - The DOC changes the name of the Supermax Correctional Institution to the Wisconsin Secure Program Facility as a result of the settlement of a federal lawsuit.