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'It’s torment': protesters call for an end to a months-long lockdown at Waupun Correctional Institution

Protests in front of the Waupun Correctional Institution
Posted at 9:18 PM, Oct 25, 2023
  • The Waupun Correctional Institution has been in a "modified movement" or "lockdown" since March 29.
  • One inmate committed suicide in June and another, whose death is still under investigation, died in October.
  • Families of inmates and activists protested outside the facility on Wednesday.
  • Protesters are calling for the facility to shut down.

“What he’s going through, he's not going through alone because we feel his pain every day. It’s terrible,” Carolyn Hayes said of her son, Jonathan.
Jonathan has been an inmate at the Waupun Correctional Institution since August.

After just a few months, Carolynn said conditions at the facility drove her son to attempt suicide.

“Which is horrible for me and my grandchildren,” Hayes said. “We have to deal with this, live with this. It’s torment.”

Carolyn and other protesters gathered at the facility Wednesday to protest a seven-month lockdown, which they said has contributed to isolation and mental health issues among inmates.

The Wisconsin Department of Corrections confirmed that the facility was placed on what they call “modified movement” on March 29 due to “multiple incidents of assaultive behavior against staff and other persons in our care.”

Families of inmates say their loved ones must stay in their rooms for 23 hours a day, can shower only once a week, and cannot have visitation with family.

This is not confirmed by the DOC. A spokesperson said it is hard to estimate how many hours people are out, but said that they are slowly working to resume activity and increase participation when it can be done safely.

Protesters say two inmates have committed suicide since March because of the lockdown conditions.

A spokesperson for the DOC confirmed one suicide but said the cause of the second death has not yet been confirmed.

James Morgan was incarcerated at the Waupun Correctional Institution in the 1980s and said he experienced a lockdown during his time there.

"Sitting in those spaces, hour upon hour works on a person's mental capacity to deal with what is considered normal in that environment,” Morgan said.

Families of inmates said a staffing shortage contributed to the reasons for the lockdown.

According to data from the DOC, the vacancy rate of correctional officers and sergeants at the Waupun Correctional Institution is 52.8%—which is higher than any other maximum security facility in the state.

In a report to the Wisconsin Joint Committee on Finance, the DOC reported spending more than $5 million on overtime for Waupun Correctional Institute staff alone in 2022.

Now, protesters are calling for the facility to be shut down.

“It was devastating when your son attempted suicide,” Carolyn said. “He never did that. He never said, “Ma, I can do this.” But this is where he at. He can’t do this.”

Protesters at Wednesday’s rally said they hope to work with state lawmakers to change conditions for inmates.

NBC 26 contacted the offices of Governor Tony Evers and Speaker of the State Assembly, Robin Vos, but did not hear back by the time of this posting.

As for Carolyn, she said she just wants to see her son again.