It’s time for pay increases and a “Tweak” to ACT 10

As everyone knows, I’m from Waupun, the best little city in Wisconsin! 

For over a century and a half, Waupun had been known as  “Prison City.” Waupun is home to three correctional institutions, Waupun Correctional, Dodge Correctional, and the Burke Center. Waupun is also home to the Department of Corrections (DOC) Pharmacy, a prison farm, and it is within an hour’s drive of nine prisons. 

The Waupun area, like most of Wisconsin, is experiencing a significant worker shortage and our prisons are operating with huge vacancy rates – rates as high as 41% at the Waupun Correctional Institution

Some of the reasons for the staffing problems is that a state job isn’t as lucrative as it used to be. Why? Well, As my friend Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-WI) likes to point out, Wisconsin’s 6th Congressional District has more manufacturing jobs than any other congressional district in America.

These manufacturers all have one thing in common right now: a Help Wanted sign is posted.  

Thanks in large part to the COVID perks in Unemployment Insurance, Wisconsin employers are desperately looking for help. Heck, I know a place that’s hiring car hops at $15 per hour. Local manufacturers are offering starting wages of $20 per hour with nice sign-on bonuses.

Many of these private sector employers’ benefits packages are nearing the benefits of a state job, minus the younger retirement, but without the headaches of working in a prison. This competition is good for people willing to work, but prisons can’t operate half-staffed. 

The DOC’s response to the staffing crisis is forced overtime with two-week shifts at different prisons and double shifts. It’s a very expensive band-aid to the staffing shortage.

This is angering staff and they’re burning out. The safety of correctional officers are at risk. Many now can’t wait to retire and, unless the state of Wisconsin steps up, these open jobs will go unfilled. The vacancy rate has even caused rumors that prisons may close and inmates will be set free. 

That’s unacceptable. 

I’m a conserative that isn’t all that into “Criminal Justice Reform.” I believe getting tough on crime in the 1990’s worked. It worked in Wisconsin, and all across America, with no better example than Rudy Giuliani’s New York City.  And with “Truth in Sentencing” on the books, the prison population isn’t likely to decrease. 

What can be done?

First, Governor Tony Evers needs to end the expanded Unemployment payments. Paying folks $650 a week to sit at home when everyone is begging for workers makes no sense. 

Second, the DOC is offering $2,000 sign-on bonuses and state Rep. Michael Schraa (R-Oshkosh), who represents Waupun, is proposing a $5.00 per hour bonus for anyone willing to work at Waupun Correctional. 

This is a good start but won’t be enough to close the staffing shortage. The legislature has to seriously look at significantly boosting pay and look at a “tweak” to ACT 10.

There are many retired correctional officers who’d be willing to work part time to cover an empty shift. However, under ACT 10 and rules against “Double Dipping” they’re not allowed to. 

When ACT 10 was passed, double dipping was being abused by many government employees statewide. But that was a decade ago and things have changed. In 2021, using retired officers to help cover shifts, while making an hourly salary on top of their pensions, will save taxpayers even more in overtime expenses. 

The legislature should also look at shifting some resources from the DOC’s administrative complex in Madison and instead spend that money to staff prisons. With respect for DOC support staff, the front line correctional official, and their safety, needs to be our priority and the DOC’s primary job is keeping us safe by keeping prisons operational. 

I consider myself a tough on crime Republican, and the most effective way to have safe streets is putting the bad guys behind bars. That said, prisons aren’t cheap, and there won’t be a cheap solution to this staffing shortage. As conservatives we have to decide, are we willing to spend what’s necessary to have safe streets?

I hope we are, and I hope the legislature leads, and takes this issue head on. It’s too important not to.

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