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Wisconsin prisons struggle with staffing shortage

21December 2021

MADISON, Wis. — Almost a quarter of the jobs within the state Department of Corrections are unfilled, according to agency data.

Wisconsin Public Radio reported on Tuesday that about 1,100 jobs remain open and maximum-security facilities in Portage and Waupun are operating with only half their staff. Officials were forced to close a cell hall at Waupun last year and now have resorted to moving about two dozen guards each pay period to Waupun from other facilities to handle the workload.

Inmates say they’re spending longer hours locked in their cells because facilities lack personnel to watch them when they’re out. Corrections spokesman John Beard said that the amount of time inmates get outside their cells varies on what programs they participate in but acknowledged recreation time at Portage has been canceled occasionally due to a staff shortage.

Corrections Secretary Kevin Carr said low pay and fears of contracting COVID-19 are keeping people from applying for positions.

Legislators approved raising guards’ pay from $16.65 to $19.03 per hour in the last two-year state budget in hopes of filling vacancies. They’re also considering a bill that would raise minimum wages by 50 cents per hour on top of an annual 2% wage increase or boost all pay rates by $5 an hour, although that option would require legislators to approve additional funding.

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