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Staffing Shortages Prompt Closure Of Waupun Prison Hall

Wisconsin's prison system has historically struggled with staffing vacancies, but the problem has worsened with COVID-19.

Wisconsin corrections officials said Tuesday they are closing part of the Waupun prison and transferring inmates to other facilities as they deal with staffing shortages exacerbated by the coronavirus outbreak.

The Department of Corrections said it is closing a cell hall at the maximum-security Waupun Correctional Institution and sending its 220 inmates to other prisons.

The transfers will reduce the prison's overall population by 20% and help address staff vacancies, corrections officials said.

>>Prisoner Advocacy Groups Call On Evers To Help Slow COVID-19 Spread In Wisconsin Prisons

DOC Secretary Kevin Carr said the staffing shortages at Waupun are “not tied to any one, particular factor and did not happen overnight,” so the cell hall closure won’t fix all the issues, the State Journal reported.

“We think it is a step in the right direction,” Carr said.

The state prison system has historically struggled with staffing vacancies, but the problem has worsened with COVID-19. According to DOC data, 219 corrections employees were actively infected with the virus as of Monday and unable to work in the state's prisons.

Since the start of the pandemic, 119 Waupun staff have self-reported testing positive for COVID-19, according to DOC.

The virus outbreak continues to impact the state in unexpected ways. Auto fatalities are up in Wisconsin despite there being fewer people on the road due to the pandemic, a report released Tuesday by the Wisconsin Policy Forum found.

The report examined state crash data from March 14 through July 31.

While all crashes and injuries were down compared with the same period in 2019, crashes where someone was killed and the number of crash-related fatalities were up. Fatal crashes increased by more than 17% and total crash fatalities grew by 20%, the report found.

At the same time, alcohol-involved crashes were up 50%, drug-involved crashes grew by 46% and speeding-involved crashes were up by 52%, the report said.

Other Midwestern states have also seen increases in auto fatalities this year, but Wisconsin was out of step with nationwide trends, the report said.

The increases came during a time when far fewer people were on the road. Preliminary data for the second quarter of 2020 shows that vehicle miles traveled in Wisconsin decreased more than 26% compared with 2019.

The reasons for the spikes are not fully understood, the report said, but “the stress and isolation associated with the pandemic as well as the rise in unemployment may have contributed to increased levels of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.” Fewer cars on the road, and reduced law enforcement, may have also led people to drive faster, the report said.

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