Starv­ing the Wis­con­sin prison sys­tem

Wisconsin Gazette - - Flashback: The Year’s Top Stories -

ac­count­abil­ity be­cause no­body over­sees the sec­re­tary.

Use com­mon sense when ask­ing your­self, what is the ul­ti­mate goal? The an­swer: pri­va­ti­za­tion. The va­can­cies within the DOC are stag­ger­ing enough to shut down ac­tiv­i­ties in the pris­ons and cre­ate manda­tory over­time, all at ex­tra cost to tax­pay­ers. Gov. Scott Walker has long lob­bied for pri­va­ti­za­tion and Wall is the tool he’s us­ing to ac­com­plish his goal.

As a ca­reer politi­cian, Walker made it no se­cret that he sup­ported pri­vate pris­ons. Cor­rec­tions Cor­po­ra­tion of Amer­ica has been one of the ma­jor con­trib­u­tors to his po­lit­i­cal ca­reer. Walker was in­stru­men­tal in the leg­is­la­tion that au­tho­rized send­ing pris­on­ers out of state in the 1990s and early 2000s, when he headed the Com­mit­tee on Cor­rec­tions. He sent roughly 5,000 in­mates to dif­fer­ent states, at a cost of $45 mil­lion to Wis­con­sin tax­pay­ers. When they re­turned to Wis­con­sin, they came back with PlayS­ta­tions, Xboxes and — among other things — pornog­ra­phy. All of these were al­lowed by the cor­rec­tions fa­cil­i­ties. We no longer send in­mates out to other states for a rea­son — it did not work.

Research has proven that pri­vate pris­ons are plagued with lack of se­cu­rity, fal­si­fy­ing records to cover up un­der­staffing prob­lems (much like we are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing now), pris­oner abuse, staff as­saults and ri­ots. They ul­ti­mately cost the tax­pay­ers more money than state-run pris­ons.

In 2010, three in­mates es­caped from a pri­vate prison in Ari­zona, kid­napped two tourists and burned their bod­ies in their own camper. State in­ves­ti­ga­tors found the perime­ter of the prison was left un­mon­i­tored for 15 min­utes at the be­gin­ning of ev­ery shift, with only one per­son re­spon­si­ble for mon­i­tor­ing the perime­ter at the time of es­cape. So many false alarms went off that staff in the pris­ons ig­nored them and one-third of the se­cu­rity staff had less than three months on the job — with zero train­ing.

Yet Walker lob­bied for pri­va­ti­za­tion any­how. Even then Gov. Tommy Thomp­son did not ap­prove of Walker’s plan and each time Walker in­tro­duced leg­is­la­tion to pri­va­tize pris­ons, it failed.

When giv­ing thanks this sea­son, please remember to thank your state em­ploy­ees who, in spite of dis­mal treat­ment, con­tinue to show up for work­day af­ter day be­cause they know your pub­lic safety falls squarely on their shoul­ders.

Chris­tine Ew­erdt is a res­i­dent of Waupun.

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