February 14, 2016

Panel finds major problems at jail

It was a serious discussion in Marathon County over what to do with the county jail, the scene of an attack by an inmate that injured two corrections officers, one of whom remains in intensive care. A panel named after the attack spent time Tuesday trying to decide its role in the process of improvement at the jail and what the scope of its efforts should be.

County administrator Brad Karger informed the committee about a series of surveys with the county that showed a lack of leadership with both the jail and the sheriff’s department. Karger called it a “complete collapse of culture” in both departments.

With both the sheriff and jail administrator’s offices being empty, panel members said that this is the best time to rectify some serious issues with the jail. Panel chair Paul Jones said that the answers to the issue will take some time to examine and simply throwing people at the problem won’t help. “But just adding numbers to a dysfunctional system is not an answer.”

A number of issues were brought up with the 2012 jail review from the state, including a lack of proper recreation facilities. Inmates are only provided ‘walking around time’ in an indoor facility with no equipment to work with inside the jail. There were also concerns over access to the mail and to library materials. Jones said significant improvements need to be made both for jail staff and for inmates. “These are citizens with rights, but the corrections officers shouldn’t have to live in fear of coming to work.”

Sheriff’s lieutenant Chad Billeb told the panel that a study showed that some corrections officers were not getting their initial training. “It’s a class on acceptable practices and state law associated with being a corrections officer.  And in some cases that was being put off for several years.”

The panel is planning to meet 5 to 7 more times over the next few months, and will be bringing the new sheriff in to discuss things once a replacement has been found for Randy Hoenisch. Members will also be looking for some input and discussion with the various judges working with the county. Their final meeting has been scheduled for July 1.


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