Staffing Shortages Prompt Closure Of Waupun Prison Hall, Transfer Of Inmates

Staffing Shortages Exacerbated By Coronavirus Outbreak

Waupun Correctional Institute
Waupun Correctional Institute in Waupun, Wis. Lauren Fuhrmann/Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism

Wisconsin corrections officials have started to close a cell hall at the Waupun Correctional Institution that will require more than 200 inmates to be transferred to other facilities. The move is aimed at easing staff shortages at the state’s oldest correctional facility in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

The decision to close down part of the prison will reduce capacity at the facility by roughly 20 percent, according to a news release. A total of 220 prisoners will be transferred from the maximum-security facility to other medium-security prisons across the state in the next few months.

Department of Corrections Secretary Kevin Carr said in a statement that officials have been working for more than a year to move inmates to institutions that align with their security risk.

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“We want more individuals classified as medium security living in medium-security institutions and more individuals classified as minimum security moved into minimum-security institutions,” said Carr. “Our adult population is at the lowest point it has been in two decades, which gives us the available space to make these moves.”

State prisons have reached their lowest population in nearly 20 years as more than 2,500 prisoners have been released during the coronavirus pandemic as part of efforts to ease overcrowding. Many inmates who were released were part of the agency’s Earned Release Program — an early release treatment program for nonviolent offenders with substance use disorders.

The transfers are also taking place as COVID-19 cases have surged inside state prisons since the fall with 8,458 confirmed cases, of which around 1,100 are currently active. Inmates who are transferred internally are quarantined for 14 days and tested prior to being moved, according to the DOC website.

The Waupun prison, which opened in 1851, was designed to hold 882 individuals. The facility can house up to 1,290 inmates. As of Nov. 27, the facility housed 1,131 prisoners.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, 716 inmates at Waupun have tested positive for COVID-19. That accounts for 63 percent of the prison’s current population.

Corrections officials say they’ve struggled to fill positions at the facility due in part to its proximity to several other correctional institutions in the region.

The state prison system has long struggled to fill vacancies among staff, which have been exacerbated by COVID-19. The DOC has confirmed that 119 staff have reported testing positive for the virus at the maximum-security facility, according to data from its website.

Inmates are already being transferred to other facilities. The transfers are expected to last through February.

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