Setup of county jail buildings discussed

New technology, design features could mean better use of staff resources
Kevin Passon

Future concerns and needs of Shawano County government buildings are being studied by an outside consultant, and among those discussions is the status of the Shawano County Sheriff’s Department.

Sheriff George Lenzner said he recently met with members of The Samuels Group to discuss the sheriff’s department, jail and the Huber Work Release Center.

“Because of where we are and where the Huber facility is, he did mention that you’re wasting all the employees,” he told members of the Shawano County Public Safety Committee on Feb. 7. “A better design, you wouldn’t even need that many people working at the same time.”

Administrative offices and the jail are located at 405 N. Main St., while the Huber facility is three miles away at 1240 Engel Drive.

Lenzner said jails today are designed very different from in years past. Today’s plans integrate more technology and are designed to use fewer staff members at any given time.

The work release center opened in 1998. Lenzner said the original Huber facility was in the upper level at the sheriff’s department and jail.

He said discussion flowed around whether all sheriff’s department operations should be at one location to help reduce expenses, including necessary manpower. That would entail either moving the administrative offices and jail to the Huber facility site or moving Huber services back to the Main Street location.

Shawano County’s work release center is a medium security county jail. It houses adult male inmates who are sentenced for more than a year and for crimes that are serious in nature.

In 2023, the Shawano County Board of Supervisors was presented with an in-depth study of the condition of the courthouse, heating plant, sheriff’s department and jail. The current study will concentrate more on the spacial concerns and needs as opposed to the other study that focused on the state of the existing buildings.

The 2023 study resulted in a conceptual proposal to build a new justice center as part of the jail to eliminate several safety issues, including walking inmates across the street from the jail to the courthouse.

Responding to a committee member’s question, Lenzner said the sheriff’s department does not house juveniles.

“That’s a whole different ballgame when you get involved in juveniles,” he said. “When they built the new jail, they talked about juveniles. Juveniles have to be separate. If you’re taking care of juveniles, you can’t take care of adults. It kind of almost has to be in a completely separate building.”

Many sheriff’s departments have closed their juvenile facilities in recent years.

“It’s actually very hard for us to find a place to put a juvenile any more,” he said.

Brown County only accepts their own county’s juveniles. Marathon County closed for about six months due to a lack of staffing. Open again, it charges huge fees — $500 a day — for non-county juveniles.

“We do not house them there unless it’s an extreme emergency,” Lenzner said. “It would kill our budget.”