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'They are treating us like animals': Inmates describe conditions inside Waupun prison

“We haven't taken showers right now for nine days,” an inmate said.
Wisconsin-Prison-Death-Investigations
Posted at 12:21 PM, Jun 06, 2024

DODGE COUNTY — Nine people, whose job is to care for people behind bars, have been charged with crimes themselves.

Waupun employees facing charges
1st row in order from left to right: (Randall Hepp, Jeramie Chalker, Sarah Am Ransbottom,)
2nd row: Jessica Ann Hosfelt, Alexander John Hollfelder, Jamall Russell)
3rd row: Tanner Leopold, Brandon Fisher, Gwendolyn Peachey)

TMJ4 does not typically use mugshots in news coverage, however, given the ongoing investigation into Waupun Correctional Institution employees and the potential for more charges, we are using them in this case.

The warden of the Waupun Correctional Institution, Randall Hepp, is charged with misconduct in public office. The other eight face felony charges of inmate abuse.

Randall Hepp
Randall Hepp.

This comes after a Dodge County Sheriff’s Office investigation following the death of four inmates within the past year. The most recent death was ultimately ruled a homicide by the medical examiner’s office.

Even before Sheriff Dale Schmidt held a news conference to lay out the findings of the criminal investigation, inmates inside Waupun called our newsroom to describe conditions inside the walls of the maximum security prison.

Wisconsin-Prison-Death-Investigations
The Waupun Correctional Institution is seen Wednesday, June 5, 2024, in Waupan, Wis. Waupun Correctional Institution Warden Randall Hepp was jailed Wednesday hours before a scheduled news conference where officials planned to discuss the findings of investigations into multiple deaths at the facility.(AP Photo/Morry Gash)

We received more than half a dozen calls from inmates we verified are currently in the Waupun Correctional Institution. They permitted us to record the phone calls, however, we are not sharing their names out of safety concerns.

They want everyone to know how they are being treated. They described some of the same conditions Sheriff Schmidt called infuriating.

“They are treating us like animals,” an inmate said. “We don't come out of our rooms. People here suffer from mental health issues. Nothing's being done."

From the Waupun prison directly to the newsroom, those locked up inside are reaching out for help.

"This is getting ridiculous,” an inmate said. “People are dying in this institution."

Some claim they’re under constant lockdowns and are forced to live in filth.

Wisconsin-Prison-Death-Investigations
The Waupun Correctional Institution is seen Wednesday, June 5, 2024, in Waupan, Wis. Waupun Correctional Institution Warden Randall Hepp was jailed Wednesday hours before a scheduled news conference where officials planned to discuss the findings of investigations into multiple deaths at the facility. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

“We haven't taken showers right now for nine days,” an inmate said.

Another inmate's biggest concern is allegations of illegal drugs being circulated in what’s supposed to be a maximum-security penitentiary.

"Whatever you can think of, it's pretty much here,” an inmate said.

Sheriff Schmidt says the oldest prison in the state is being run recklessly and dangerously. He says four deaths in one year is far too many.

Wisconsin-Prison-Death-Investigations
The Waupun Correctional Institution is seen Wednesday, June 5, 2024, in Waupan, Wis. Waupun Correctional Institution Warden Randall Hepp was jailed Wednesday hours before a scheduled news conference where officials planned to discuss the findings of investigations into multiple deaths at the facility. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

"These people were not cared for and they are people,” he said.

One by one, the sheriff went through what he says the criminal investigation uncovered.

"Evidence shows the decedent was dead in his cell for at least 12 hours before he was discovered on Oct. 30, 2023,” he said. “I’ll say that again, he was dead in his cell for over 12 hours until they located him the next morning."

From allegations of missing cell checks to missing meals.

"Correctional officers failed to feed the decedent nine out of 12 meals over a four-day period,” Sheriff Schmidt said.

Inmates tell us despite their convictions, they are still people who deserve more resources and better living conditions.

"Something's got to be done,” an inmate said. “Something has to be done."

Sheriff Schmidt said the Waupun prison staffing is at just 50 percent, but that’s not the only thing he thinks needs to be addressed. He’s calling on the state to shut down the whole prison to have it renovated or rebuilt to update infrastructure and meet the needs of a maximum security prison.