BOSCOBEL - As work on Boscobel’s new, $8.9 million “inmate program building” nears completion for an anticipated October opening, correctional staff at the Wisconsin Secure Program Facility (WSPF) continue to struggle with non-stop overtime schedules—with no end in sight.
The GOP-led budget committee recently approved $42 million over two years to pay for overtime costs in the state prison system. Governor Tony Evers had asked for $55 million in overtime funding in the 2022-23 biennial budget.
“This has been going on for years. It’s really been bad the past two years,” said one of four WSPF sergeants who recently sat down for an interview for this story, all of whom requested to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals, even termination, at work.
“There are people who want to come forward, but they’re so scared of retaliation,” said one.
To add staff and ease overtime costs, the state needs to hire more correctional officers. Republicans approved $4.7 million to fund 28 new Corrections positions, less than half the 71 positions Evers requested.
However, at Waupun Correctional alone 134 jobs are vacant, a vacancy rate of 45.3%. At WSPF in Boscobel, 32-37 jobs are vacant, or 28.3 percent. Add to that a prison population that is at 110% capacity, and there just aren’t enough guards to go around.
To fill shifts, management has turned to “jamming” or “pre-ordering” staff to work longer, or unscheduled shifts on so-called “Super Tuesdays.” For example, on Tuesdays staff may be pre-ordered to work an additional shift after their original scheduled shift, or a Sunday or Monday that they previously had off. Many are working back-to-back, 8-hour shifts on a weekly basis or more.
“It’s not the money I even want,” said one sergeant, who figures he may make over $100,000 this year. “I want safe conditions for my staff.”
Instead of being pre-ordered, staff are now voluntarily signing up for overtime shifts so they can choose what days they work and possible get a day or two off on weekends.
“It’s a game, working extra hours so they can’t be ordered,” said one sergeant, who says working 70 hours a week is not uncommon and 80-90 is not unheard of. “Someone’s going to get hurt.”
In fact, some correctional officers already have been injured by inmates and falling asleep on the job or in the break room has been reported. One staffer fell asleep in the barber shop with inmates present.
“Most people are walking around in a zombie state; they’re living on coffee and energy drinks,” said one. “Other staff are helping each other out because they know it’s not safe. It’s not safe, but we’re doing it. Halfway through the week we have no one fit for duty. Every other weekend off would be a tremendous help. Right now we’re getting one weekend every 5-6 weeks.”
And staff aren’t happy, with three more quitting in the past week. “Most on Alpha (segregation) unit want out.”
In an effort to alleviate the overtime, Warden Gary Boughton instituted temporary staffing changes in the past week.
“It is obvious to see the amount of additional hours staff are working,” Warden Boughton wrote in a memo to staff. “In review of the past “Super Tuesday” pre-orders, many of these hours are on 1stshift. In an effort to reduce the amount of additional hours being worked involuntarily, effective Sunday, July 4th, identified Monday through Friday 8a-4p staff will have their work hours changed to 6a-2p.”
This action will reduce General Population unit staffing from four staff to three in order to fill other 1stshift needs. If staffing is available, a fourth officer may be placed on units with out-of-cell activities.“We will continue to monitor staffing levels and e valuate the need for additional modifications to operations an schedules in an effort to ensue safe operations while balancing he needs of staff and the population,” Boughton wrote. “These are unprecedented times for WSPF and I appreciate staff willingness to be flexible, adaptable and understanding.”