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St. Croix Correctional Center opens new wing

St. Croix Correctional Center Superintendent Jo Skalski stands in one of four classrooms on the second floor of the center’s new wing. The new rooms, along with a new computer lab, will replace makeshift classroom and computer lab space in modular structures originally built in 1978. (Photo by Micheal Foley)1 / 3
Housing space for 36 male inmates along with officer control space takes up a large portion of the main floor of the newly built wing of the St. Croix Correctional Center. The housing unit will replace housing in modular structures originally built in 1978. The number of beds at the facility will not increase due to the construction. (Photo by Micheal Foley)2 / 3
The new east wing of the St. Croix Correctional Center is nearly a mirror image of the wing originally built in 1994, just a few years after the Challenge Incarceration Program was first established at the facility. The modular structure in the foreground is a 12-bed housing unit the center added in 2003 to house female inmates. (Photo by Micheal Foley)3 / 3

According to St. Croix Correctional Center (SCCC) Superintendent Jo Skalski, “Someday has finally come,” as the facility prepared for the ribbon-cutting of its long-awaited building addition.

She has been waiting patiently since 1996 for the addition to become a reality, just two years after the building was first constructed.

Construction on the addition began in July 2013, and inmates and staff members were putting the finishing touches on the new space and cleaning it last week in preparation for the ribbon-cutting ceremony scheduled for Tuesday morning. Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC) Secretary Edward F. Wall, DOC Division of Adult Institutions Administrator Cathy A. Jess and Wisconsin Correctional Center System Warden Quala Champagne were among the state officials scheduled to attend the event.

Tuesday’s celebration comes at the end of a 10-month construction project that added about 16,000 square feet to the existing SCCC facility, which consists of replacement housing for 36 inmates, restroom/shower space, offices, holding cells, officer control space, classrooms, group rooms, a library and storage space.

Skalski first came to SCCC in 1996, two years after the building opened in 1994. She said the building was built with knockout blocks in key places, signaling the intention to construct the very addition they now have 20 years later.

According to a program Skalski prepared for the ribbon-cutting ceremony, the SCCC began in 1978 as a 20-bed facility housed in a modular structure. It expanded to a 38-bed facility in 1985 with another modular unit. In 1991, the facility established the Challenge Incarceration Program (CIP) with 18 beds.

Upon completion of the building in 1994, the inmate population stood at 75, with the original 38 beds in the modular structures used for the Atlas Program (for Alternative to Revocation inmates). The CIP and Atlas programs merged in 1999. Because only one of the two wings was built in 1994, the facility has continued to use the modular structures for both housing and classroom space.

Another 12-bed modular unit was added in 2003 to house female inmates. The current maximum population of SCCC is 132, and Skalski is quick to note that though the new addition includes housing for up to 36 men, the number of inmates at the facility won’t be increasing. The original modular units are scheduled for demolition this fall, and Skalski says there currently aren’t any plans for the space.

“We’ll probably do some more gardening,” Skalski said. “That helps feed the inmates as well as teach them some skills on how to be self-sufficient.”

As for the new building addition, Skalski said it provides three key things the facility sorely needed: holding cells, classrooms and a basement that can serve as a storm shelter.

Currently, when an inmate gets a bit out of control and needs a place to cool off for a short time, the security staff members use a group room. Having two secure holding cells will make such incidents much easier to safely control.

The full basement beneath the two-story addition provides plenty of storage space, but Skalski is excited for its potential use as a storm shelter. With many of the inmates housed in temporary modular units, safety in the event of a severe storm is a concern. Cramming more than 100 people into the tiny basement beneath the current building’s kitchen was not a good option.

The biggest change the inmates and staff members will experience is the second floor, which consists of multiple classrooms, a computer lab and a group room. The classrooms are outfitted with new tables, chairs and AV equipment, and much more space than the inmates currently have for learning.

The 180-day CIP is a boot-camp-like program designed to teach discipline and instill useful skills in inmates to help make them productive members of society. According to the program’s mission statement, the CIP provides “inmates the opportunity to gain the personal resources needed to return to the community, to successfully complete extended supervision and to remain crime and drug free.”

Though the facility has a strict military boot camp feel to it, Skalski planned to show off a different side of its staff members during the ribbon-cutting presentation on Tuesday. Over the course of the construction project, Skalski collected video footage of the progress along with cuts of members of the 53-person staff playfully dancing to the hit song “Happy” by Pharrell Williams.

Even Skalski herself got in on the fun. She is shown at the conclusion of the video dancing atop the newly constructed addition.

“There was always the joke that I would dance on the roof if we ever got the new wing. So I danced on the roof.” Skalski said.

Micheal Foley
Micheal Foley worked at RiverTown Multimedia from July 2013 to June 2015 as editor at the New Richmond News. 
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