Wisconsin’s Oldest Prison Faces Closure Amid Staffing Shortfalls and Inmate Deaths

Madison, Wisconsin – Wisconsin’s oldest prison, built in the 1850s, has faced challenges of deterioration, extended lockdowns, and staffing shortages for years. The recent charges against the Warden and eight staffers at the Waupun Correctional Institution have intensified calls for action after the deaths of two inmates.

State lawmakers express optimism that these charges will finally bring about the necessary changes that have been long overdue. With Mark Born, a former county jail officer and current co-chair of the state Legislature’s budget committee, expressing shock and determination to hold the Department of Corrections accountable.

The Chair of the Assembly committee overseeing prisons, State Rep. Michael Schraa, is taking action by planning to issue subpoenas and hold public hearings to gather more details on the situation at the prison. The charges have reignited discussions surrounding the closure of both the Waupun and Green Bay prisons, but concerns over job losses and the high cost of building new facilities continue to impede progress.

Governor Tony Evers has resisted calls for closure, emphasizing the need for broader criminal justice reform and a plan to address the housing of the nearly 1,700 displaced inmates. Meanwhile, both Democrats and Republicans have proposed different approaches to prison reforms, with challenges in finding common ground.

The focus on the Waupun prison has intensified following the deaths of four inmates, leading to lawsuits and allegations of inadequate healthcare, limited access to facilities, and unsanitary conditions. The state Corrections Department and the U.S. Justice Department have launched investigations into the prison’s operations, shedding light on the dangerous environment within the institution.

The charges brought against the Warden and eight others are related to the deaths of inmates Cameron Williams and Donald Maier, revealing disturbing details of negligence and mistreatment within the prison. The documented incidents of delayed medical attention, lack of medication, and inhumane living conditions emphasize the urgent need for reform in Wisconsin’s correctional system.

Dodge County Sheriff Dale Schmidt condemned the reckless practices at the prison, highlighting the urgent need for change. The staffing shortage, as cited by the Warden in his defense, reflects a systemic issue that has long plagued the institution, resulting in compromised care and safety for inmates.

As the calls for reform grow louder, the future of Wisconsin’s correctional facilities hangs in the balance, with stakeholders grappling with complex challenges to ensure the well-being and rights of both staff and inmates. The spotlight on the Waupun Correctional Institution serves as a stark reminder of the pressing need for accountability, transparency, and comprehensive reform in the state’s prison system.