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Lawmakers seek delay to Hortonia youth prison

DOC should gain town’s backing first, they write

By Scott Bellile

Seven legislators wrote a letter to the co-chairs of the state’s Joint Committee on Finance Monday, April 15, asking for a delay on approval of the youth juvenile correctional facility in Hortonia.

The lawmakers stated the Wisconsin Department of Corrections should hold at least one informational session in the town of Hortonia and gain support from the town board as well as Outagamie County’s government before the Joint Committee on Finance approves the project.

The letter was signed by seven Republican state lawmakers: Sen. Robert Cowles, Green Bay; Rep. Gary Tauchen, Bonduel; Sen. Roger Roth, Appleton; Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, Kaukauna; Sen. Andre Jacque, De Pere; Rep. Dave Murphy, Greenville; and Rep. Ron Tussler, Harrison.

The letter was first reported by WLUK.

The letter states community support is “paramount” to the facility’s success and ability to serve children. The signers ask Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’s administration to explain why the Hortonia location is ideal.

The red box shows the town of Hortonia property where the Wisconsin Department of Corrections is proposing a juvenile correctional facility. The property is southeast of the U.S. Highway 45 and State Highway 15 intersection.
Image created using Google Maps

“While the need to find adequate locations and the difficulty in predicting the long-term needs for Serious Juvenile Offender program is well understood, the announcement of the facility caught many in the area by surprise with very little to no prior knowledge it would be chosen,” the state legislators wrote. “Additionally, concerns regarding the location of the site, zoning requirements, ordinance compliance, its adjacency to the Wolf River, wetlands, wildlife displacement, and being inside of a FEMA Special Flood Hazard Area would need to be addressed directly.”

News media first reported in November that Hortonia was a finalist for one of the state’s new juvenile correctional facilities to replace the Lincoln Hills facility in Irma.

Since March 12, when Evers announced the locations for two state-run juvenile correctional facilities – one in Hortonia and the other in Milwaukee – Hortonia town officials have been voicing opposition to the proposal while the Outagamie County Executive Office has been accepting.

The DOC will hold a town meeting at the Hortonia Town Hall on Tuesday, April 30, at 7 p.m. to discuss its plans for the facility in further detail.


Mixed reactions among local officials

Hortonia Town Clerk Lyn Neuenfeldt told the Press Star Tuesday, April 16, the legislators’ letter is “a step in the right direction.”

“We have a long road ahead of us and still maintain that this is absolutely not the right place for a facility such as this,” she stated in an email.

“This decision was made without any attempt to contact or talk to local government, and while the current administration will maintain that that was done prior to them taking over, it still begs the question ‘Why then are you compounding the error by pushing forward?’” she added.

Meanwhile, Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson was not pleased by the letter, calling its writers a “group of partisan legislators.”


“Someone needs to call them out for their Olympic flip-flop,” Nelson said in a statement. “These are the folks who created a commission that [recommended] the Hortonia site. Now they’re telling us they have buyer’s remorse? Instead of writing to the Joint Finance Committee, they should write to each other and remind themselves of their own record. That way, they’d be reminded they’re the ones who kicked the can down the road. For years they ignored the problems of Lincoln Hills. When they finally got their act together and created the site selection commission, they became the first to know that the Hortonia site was in play. Now they try to put this on all of us.”

New London Mayor Gary Henke supports the project.

He sent a letter to Evers and DOC Secretary Kevin Carr on April 10 reiterating the city council’s and other city officials’ “full support” for the proposed facility.

“We appreciate that there is a critical need for such a Type 1 facility and we stand ready to assist you [to] meet that need by building the facility here,” Henke stated. “We understand that there are some negative attributes regarding the location of such a facility here, but we strongly feel that the negatives are outweighed by the many positive aspects.”

Henke said in the past the city would be happy to annex land into New London and supply utilities to get the facility built if necessary.

Neuenfeldt said Henke has not contacted Hortonia town officials to discuss the matter with them. She added she believes his support does not represent the feelings of the New London residents who elected him.

Hortonia’s other major neighboring municipality, Hortonville, has been less vocal about the proposal.

Village Administrator David DeTroye declined to weigh in on matters pertaining to the juvenile facility during a press conference Monday, April 15, saying it is a Hortonia and New London issue.


This article was edited to remove a mention of Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson being in support of the juvenile correctional facility. Nelson clarified to the Press Star his position is more neutral than Hortonia’s or New London’s on the matter, but the county is willing to cooperate with the state.

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