Everyone seemed to have a story of being stopped at the door on their way out at the end of an eight-hour shift, only to be told that they needed to turn around to work another eight hours.And the reason these officers can "get ordered" with no notice for a second 8-hour shift in a day is because Gov. Walker's Act 10 took away collective bargaining rights for these correctional officers. This essentially made the guards "at-will" employees without a union that would demand procedures be put in place regarding such stopgap measures. In fact, the officers said that staffing is so short at CCI that civilian staff is sometimes called in to help oversee inmates when they are in common areas such for daily events such as eating. Stefonek's article notes that over 1/4 of the 233 correctional officer positions at CCI are unfilled, and with starting pay at only $15.20 an hour, they can't find anyone that would take on this dangerous work. So instead, taxpayers have to shell out for increasing amounts of overtime paid to the few guards that are able to stay, and the extra travel costs that are taken on to move officers from the other prisons into Portage to cover some of those shifts.
“I had some suspicions. I got stopped at a church I was singing at two weeks ago,” said Considine. “A couple in Baraboo saves a couch for a guy. They said he would get done at midnight and [CCI management] will tell him when he gets done at midnight that he has to be back at 8 o’clock in the morning.”
Among the attendees were would-be and formerly active community members who didn’t have the time for anything outside work. There’s no telling when a person might “get ordered,” they said, which eliminates the possibility of making regular appointments with any kind of club or organization. It makes single parenting impossible without having a babysitter on call 24 hours a day. For a single person, there isn’t room to responsibly own a dog or a cat.
CCI has instituted a number of stop-gap policies to keep the facility operational. One of which has been to temporarily bring in officers from elsewhere in the area, such as Waupun or Fox Lake. This is a temporary solution, involving paying travel costs, lodging and meals for visiting workers. Despite the benefits, some of these officers quickly turned around and headed home after witnessing conditions at the prison. One officer didn’t even put in a week before telling the other officers that his safety wasn’t worth it and he was getting out.
Wisconsin already has to increase spending by $29.4 million in the current 2015-17 budget to handle the increasing prison populations and contract for extra beds at previously-shuttered state facilities, and overtime pay was also increased by $81 million compared to the previous budget. Yes, the overall Corrections budget was down by $145.9 million compared to the previous budget, but almost all of that is due to a transfer of community-based juvenile services to the Department of Children and Families, and even with $40 million in savings from lower debt and energy costs, the overall amount to pay for actual housing and supervision of inmates has gone up. This is even taking into account Walker's provision to stop staffing the prisons' guard towers overnight (all figures come from the summary of the Corrections budget by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau).
Near the end of the Portage Daily Register story, there is this gripping passage from Stefonek that puts into focus how 4 years of Act 10's thumbscrews have worn down the correctional officers' morale, and hurt the level of service of CCI.
Erpenbach asked the group if there was one thing that could be changed, what they would do. This quickly got into the details of the math of scheduling --whether 12-hour days might be better — and different orientation. But the heart of the situation was a need for more staff, which by all assessments voiced at the meeting would be a lost cause without a change in the administration.And I'm just scratching the surface of this excellent article. Keep it in mind when you hear Scott Walker promising to "wreak havoc" on Washington like he did in Wisconsin, Realize just what "havoc" has resulted at CCI after taking away the rights of public employees, and realize that the damage doesn't just happen with the one-time "bomb" of Act 10, but it lingers and multiplies over time.