Wisconsin prisons better staffed due to DOC pay increases

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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) -- Hiring correctional officers is problem nationwide, but Wisconsin has implement several changes to recruit and retain staff. Secretary designee for the Department of Corrections said changes made in April are having a positive effect.

Lincoln Hills youth prison (file photo)

"The vacancy levels at our maximum security facilities was reaching a critical level and that it could have implications as related to officer safety,” explained Secretary-desginee Kevin Carr.

Earlier this year, senior staff members at the Department of Corrections told Carr that something needed to be done about the lack of correctional officers.

"There's nothing more important to me than the safety and security of the officers that work in our facility and the people that we care for there,” Carr added.

He recommended a $5 per hour add-on pay for correctional officers at six facilities -- Green Bay, Columbia, Waupun, Dodge, Taycheedah, and Lincoln Hills-Copper Lake schools. It has been in effect since April.

"I'm happy to report as a result of that, the number of people who have applied to work at those particular facilities has increased 50%,” he explained.

That's even with Lincoln Hills set to close. They've hired 19 youth counselors since April -- and 20 more are expected to begin as youth counselors this month.

"I believe that we still have a really good balance of senior and new officers at Lincoln Hills, at least that's my understanding. There hasn't been a complete turn over of staff,” he added.

He says long-time and new staff members are also embracing the mandated changes required at Lincoln Hills which is evident in the most recent monitor report -- which includes reducing pepper spray use, idol and solitary time as punishment, and shackles.

As far as other recruitment efforts, Carr says they are also trying to work with local colleges and cultural centers, along with creating more of a social media presence to reach as many people as possible.