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As prison lockdown continues, some inmate privileges returned

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Inmates at Columbia Correctional Institution are getting some of their privileges back as a four-week lockdown continues.

The Department of Corrections tells 27 News as of Nov. 25 inmates at the maximum-security prison in Portage, Wis. are allowed visits from family and friends, receive hot meals, phone privileges, and some minimum custody inmates resumed serving food and doing laundry.

The lockdown began on Nov. 8 after three assaults against staff members occurred within a few weeks.

“Since there were three staff assaults in a short period of time, DOC staff determined that to maintain the safety for our staff and adults in custody at CCI, the entire institution should be placed in a modified status,” said Clare Hendricks, DOC spokeswoman.

The first staff assault occurred on Oct. 22, which DOC officials said staff isolated the inmate involved to avoid “serious impact on the rest of the facility.”

A second incident followed on Oct. 29, then the third assault nine days later. 

During that same time period, on November 1, a Columbia Correctional officer, Andrew Jezuit, was arrested after the sheriff's office conducted an investigation into possible misconduct and excessive force with an inmate. His case is pending.

The November lockdown follows a nearly month-long lockdown at CCI in January and February. In that case, staff members were looking for contraband.

Former Department of Corrections Secretary Ed Wall said while the amount and length of lockdowns at CCI might seem out of the ordinary, they're not.

“It's hard for the public to understand the pressure that's on in any type of corrections facility in, in particular, the maximum-security facilities have got a lot going on,” said Wall.

“On average, I had 5 to 10 officers assaulted per week across the state, that was just the reality of the job," he added.

When this latest lockdown at CCI started inmates were mostly confined to their cells, received bagged meals and had no phone privileges or visits. DOC tells 27 New health services have been provided to inmates during the duration of the lockdown, but in a different location.

“Necessary health services and clinical appointments occurred within housing units rather than in the Health Services Unit during this suspension of administrative rules,” said Hendricks.

For years Wall has advocated for prison reform and details in his book “Unethical: Life in Scott Walker’s Cabinet and the Dirty $ide of Politics,” speaking out about problems at DOC that cost him his job. Former Attorney General Brad Schimel fired Wall in April 2016.

Now, Wall has made it his goal to speak out about reforming the prison system, specifically higher pay for correctional officers.

“For me, I determined to be the biggest contributor to the problems and corrections was the pay of the officers, they are dramatically underpaid; the forced overtime was immense,” said Wall.

DOC does provide resources to staff and their families to help with stress, including peer supporters, mediation and staff suicide and prevention.

However, Wall said lockdowns and assaults against staff and inmates are inevitable without action from the legislature to reform the criminal justice system.

"Until the legislature gets their arms around that and decides to fairly pay corrections officers I think you're going to see this continue and it will get worse because it's harder to get people and maintain them."

Emilee Fannon

Capital Bureau Chief

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