Group Calls For Federal Probe of Alleged Abuse at Wisconsin's Waupun Prison

Jul 30, 2014

The group WISDOM, wants Gov. Walker to call for a federal investigation of alleged inmate abuse at Waupun.

Allegations of abuse have surfaced at the Waupun State Prison. The Wisconsin Department of Corrections calls the claims, baseless.

According to a report by the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, inmates have filed at least 15 lawsuits since 2011. They claim prison staff inflicted extreme physical and psychological damage; oftentimes, in Waupun’s solitary confinement unit.

An advocacy group is not satisfied with the Corrections Department response. Inmates at Waupun claim they suffered at the hands of one guard, in particular.

The group demanding an investigation is WISDOM. It’s a statewide coalition of faith-based organizations. WISDOM's director David Liners says the accusations don’t surprise him.

“We have so many people writing to our office and formerly incarcerated people we’ve talked to that, the sort of thing that was described in the report was awful, but unfortunately, it’s not unlike a lot of other stories we’ve heard from independent people,” Liners says.

This week, WISDOM asked Gov. Walker to request a federal probe. Liners says the governor passed along the letter to the Wisconsin Department of Corrections.

“The number one thing we are asking them to do is to ask the U. S. Department of Justice to come and do an independent investigation of the conditions of solitary confinement in our state," Liners says.  "The U. S. Justice Department did something similar recently for Pennsylvania at the request of Pennsylvania and it was very helpful and very illuminating to the state, to start changing their practices."

Liners says the religious coalition also wants Waupun to offer more mental health services and training for staff who handle difficult inmates.

Republican state Rep. Garey Bies does not think an outside investigation is necessary. He’s been chairman of the Assembly Corrections committee for ten years, and says he‘s confident the Department of Corrections has followed procedures.

“Our system has a good protocol for investigating, and if these allegations, especially if some of them have to do with lawsuits, I’m sure they’ve been dissected in every which way you can to make sure everything was done right and proper and if they did find improprieties I’m sure there’s been some correction or discipline to whatever level it needed to be,” Bies says.

In addition, Bies says he won’t call for his committee to address the allegations. He says there’s no need to micromanage an agency.

“If it was a real big deal, maybe we would take a look at it but, the people I know that we have in place for running our system, I think it’s probably the best it’s been run in all the years I’ve been around,” Bies says.

The Department of Corrections declined an interview. But in an email, Spokeswoman Joy Staab says it takes seriously every allegation of assault brought to the attention of staff, and then the Dodge County Sheriff’s Department investigates. According to Staab, it has found no substantiated allegations of staff-on-inmate abuse at Waupun, in recent years.

WISDOM’s David Liners wrote to Wisconsin’s Corrections secretary late Wednesday, insisting its relationship with the Dodge County Sheriff’s Department is compromised, and outside parties are needed to examine practices in segregation units.