Oversight, accountability sought in prison system | Wisconsin

(The Center Square) – Through tears, people with loved ones inside Wisconsin’s prisons told horror stories, and begged lawmakers for help at the Wisconsin Capitol on Tuesday.

The Assembly Committee on Corrections held a hearing seeking answers about a string of recent inmate deaths, to find out more about the former warden at the prison in Waupun, and the eight others who were charged last month in two of those inmate deaths.

But the most powerful testimony came from advocates and family members who said there need to be sweeping changes. Former Secretary Kevin Carr, who retired earlier this year, and Govs. Tony Evers and Scott Walker were names mentioned for fault.

“They keep asking who is watching Secretary Carr. The answer is the governor,” Rep Janel Brandtjen, R-Menomonee Falls, told The Center Square. “Governor Evers is the Executive Branch, the daily chief of day-to-day operations of this state. He hires and fires the administrators of these agencies. This is an issue we have dealt with since Governor Walker, who took lots of heat. Where is the governor in this process, why isn’t he part of building a solution?”

Rebecca Aubart with the Ladies of SCI told lawmakers that Wisconsin needs an ombudsman for the families and advocates to handle complaints and concerns.

“We are begging you guys to work together,” Aubart tearfully said. “One side cannot fix it. Everybody has to work together. We need an ombuds, we need some accountability and oversight that is not coming from the DOC or coming from the governor’s office. It needs to be independent.”

Aubart said Minnesota has an ombudsman that has made the prisons there “incrementally better.” She it is the model that other states use in comparison.

Corrections officials on Tuesday said their staffing crisis is to blame for most of the problems. Aubart said that’s only part of the problem.

“We definitely have a staffing crisis but we have a population crisis,” she added.

Aubart said each facility is overpopulated even by the department’s standards “by several hundred people.”

Carr retired from the Department of Corrections in March, just a few months before the arrests and charges at the prison in Waupun. He was succeeded by acting-Secretary Jared Hoy in May.

Brandtjen, however, said the problems with Wisconsin’s prisons have been well-documented for years.

She pointed to what she called the “horrible audit of April 2023.” That audit found serious problems in managing Wisconsin’s Community Corrections Program, and saw leaders angrily lash out at the auditors who were critical of their work.

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