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Prison Guard Shortage Captures State Lawmakers’ Attention

Officials Plan Meeting With Wisconsin Department Of Corrections

prison bar close-up
Michael Coghlan (CC-BY-NC-ND)  

A shortage of correctional officers in Wisconsin’s prisons is forcing many guards to work overtime.

Seeking a solution, three Republican legislators said that they will meet with the state Department of Corrections secretary to discuss the problem this week.

A recent report in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel found the current vacancy rate for guards in the prison system is four times what it was in 2010.

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State Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Madison, represents the area near the Columbia Correctional Institution in Portage, where the shortage is the most acute. He said the problem began with the passage of Act 10, when guards lost their union bargaining rights and many of them retired. He said it reflects a “shortsightedness of not being able to sit down with the officers and deal with workplace safety and wages.”

“The (Walker) administration has been slow to react to this,” added Erpenbach. “They’ve seen it coming. We’ve all seen it coming. Yet, they didn’t do anything about it.”

DOC officials have doubled the number of training session for new guard recruits to fill the vacancies. The most recent class of 26 graduated a week ago.

The three Republican lawmakers — state Sen. Rick Gudex, R-Fond du Lac, and Reps. Michael Schraa, R-Oshkosh, and Rob Hutton, R-Brookfield — who are scheduled to meet with the DOC Secretary Ed Wall didn’t return calls seeking comment.