Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Austerity And The Marathon County Meltdown

Last month, the Marathon County Sheriff, Randy Hoenisch, retired from his office under dubious circumstances:
Hoenisch, who was the fourth highest-paid sheriff in the state in 2011, was scheduled to end his term in January 2015. He announced his retirement at a news conference in the Sheriff’s Department offices, where he cited the criminal charges against his wife, Kim, including burglary, misconduct in public office and possession of narcotics, as the main cause of distraction in his job and the motivator for his early retirement. Kim Hoenisch, who was a probation and parole agent before she came under investigation, is scheduled to be sentenced April 25.
To be honest, I didn't pay much attention to this story at the time.

There is so much wrong happening in this state and country that another messed up politician hardly makes the radar anymore. Besides, if I wanted to write about sheriffs behaving badly, I've got Milwaukee County's David Clarke that would keep me busy for months as it is.  I was only passingly aware of it because the acolytes of austerity - right wing propagandists and radio squawk show hosts - were beating their chests in joy, as if they actually had something to do with it.

But then last week, another story came out of Marathon County that did pique my interest more.

Last Wednesday, two correctional officers in the Marathon County jail were
assaulted by a prisoner. One of the guards was seriously injured and is still in the hospital in critical condition and is "clinging to life":
The attack happened at about 12:30 p.m. when corrections officers entered a cellblock within the jail to take “corrective action,” according to the release issued Thursday. The inmate became combative and punched the corrections officer in the head as the officer was trying to move inmates to their individual cells, according to the release.

Both injured officers were taken by ambulance to Aspirus Wausau Hospital, where one officer was treated and released, authorities said.

Both officers involved in the altercation have been employed with the Marathon County Sheriff’s Department since 2001, according to the release.
We at Cog Dis wish a rapid recovery to the injured officer and strength for her family and friends as they help s

Since the incident, more background news has come in and it's not good.

For starters, it turns out that the jail was understaffed:
Officials at the Marathon County Jail, where an inmate critically injured a guard last week, were warned six years ago that staffing levels were so low that employees could be in danger.

Two consultants submitted a 2007 report in which they found that Marathon County was below the state average in its ratio of staff to inmates, the Wausau Daily Herald reported.

"It is clear that additional staffing is needed at the Marathon County Jail if it is to house the numbers of inmates it has been housing safely, securely and with a minimum county liability," consultants Dennis Kimme and Gary Bowker wrote.

At the time the report was released, the jail had 49 full-time staff members. The facility had even fewer staff members at the time of Wednesday's attack. The jail has 48 full-time staff members, said Frank Matel, the county's director of human resources.
On Monday, we learned that not only was the jail understaffed, it was also grossly overcrowded:
The Marathon County Jail was operating above recommended inmate capacity levels last week when an inmate brutally beat a corrections officer at the facility.

The attack happened at about 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, according to a news release from the Marathon County Sheriff’s Department. The jail housed 286 inmates on the morning of the attack, seven more than capacity, according to a daily jail report issued Wednesday morning.

Housed in the Marathon County Courthouse building in downtown Wausau, the jail was originally designed to hold 191 inmates. In 1999, administrators increased jail capacity to 279 by adding additional bunks to single jail cells, according to a 2007 jail assessment study. The revised capacity of 279 was approved by state corrections officials, according to the report.

The report, obtained by Daily Herald Media, outlined current jail conditions and identified “serious perimeter security issues” within the jail. The report, written by two independent consultants along with Marathon County Jail Administrator Bob Dickman, said that operating above the original 191 inmate capacity has created “greater challenges to staff trying to properly separate, classify and manage inmates equitably, effectively and safely.”
Gee, a jail that is understaffed and overcrowded...what could possibly go wrong? 

But wait, it only gets worse.

With there being no Sheriff, all the reporters have been going to the Marathon County Administrator, Brad Karger, for answers and comments.  To say that his forthrightness has been lacking would be an understatement:
Marathon County Administrator Brad Karger said he did not believe staffing issues contributed to the attack.
Yeah. Right.

If the gentle reader was not aware, I had done a stint as a correctional officer at the Milwaukee County House of Correction, now known as the County Correctional Facility - South. During Scott Walker's time as Milwaukee County Executive, things were bad there as well, and yes, it was because of the staffing issues:
Having had worked at HOC for a number of years, I feel that I have some insight on what happened. Basically the House is understaffed, and the workers are burning out by having to do constant overtime. This was talked about in an article in MSJ back on June 30th.

Many of the officers at the HOC use the job as a stepping stone for a position with the Sheriff's Department (oops, Sheriff's Office now) or with a municipal police department. Many officers don't have what it takes to work there and leave on their own or are fired. This means a high rate of turnover already exists. Adding to the problems is Scott Walker's perennial budget cuts in the disguise of tax freezes, and this lowers the number or positions available, but not necessarily the number needed. Furthermore, in an effort to cut his budget, Sheriff David Clarke changed the staffing at the Milwaukee County Jail from deputies to correction officers, causing a small exodus of people from HOC to the jail.

So now you have officers that are working 12 to 16 hours a day, six to seven days a week, week in and week out. Officers are getting so burnt out that they are purposely disrespecting superior officers, or violating other policies, just so they can get suspended and have a day off. (This also adds to the shortage of officers, and causes even more forced overtime for the others.)

When you have people working these many hours, without a day off or even enough time to do more than catch five hours a sleep before going back to work on a daily basis, mistakes are going to happen. People aren't as alert or as careful as they should be, especially in a prison setting.

The chronic fatigue, the inability for officers to see their families, and the increasing risk of injury has caused an all time low in morale. This is exacerbated when they have people threatening their job security with talk of privatization.
As Karger claims for the Marathon County Jail, the House of Corrections always passed the state's inspections. But when it came to a federal audit of HOC, we learned that things weren't so good after all:
The House is now run by Superintendent Ron Malone, who reports to County Executive Scott Walker, while the jail is run separately by Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr.

The federal report, in unusually blunt language, says: "The House of Correction is a seriously troubled institution." Though not overrun by gangs or plagued by a high number of escapes or assaults, the House "is an institution with a bad history and a negative, counter-productive organizational culture."
But it wasn't just the understaffing and overcrowding at the jail that contributed to this horrible assault.

It also has the marks of the heavy hand of the Archbishop of Austerity - Scott Walker.

Namely, it also involves Acts 10 and 28.

We have already seen how Act 10 and Act 28 has affected the Wisconsin Correctional System and how it led to an increase in assaults on correctional officers:
“With changes in sentence structure due to Truth in Sentencing laws and the recent repeal of Act 28 (a provision that allows for the early release of some inmates), many inmates feel they have no options,” said Phil Briski, union president at DCI. “The inmate that left one of our officers with serious injuries said he had no hope of getting out of prison and was going to assault a staff member no matter where he was (incarcerated). They’re stuck in here for longer periods of time, and we’re the ones who are going to pay for it.”

Briski thinks the low incidence of uprisings in Wisconsin correctional institutions over the years has been due to a highly trained, experienced staff.

“With the contempt that’s been shown to us, people don’t care as much. They figure there’s no benefit to being above average,” Briski said. “Things are going to slip, and there’s going to be mistakes made due to the turnover in staff, overcrowding of prisons and the legislature’s failure to deal with the issues.”
And the assaults continued on the state level, so why would one be surprised if they also continued on the county level.

This brings us back to Karger, who appears to also be an Acolyte of Austerity, especially when one sees his reaction to Act 10:
Eager Wisconsin officials are telling workers they’ll still contribute more to employee benefits while Gov. Walker’s embattled legislation is stuck in the courts.

Brad Karger, the administrator for Marathon County said his county, like many others, will have workers contribute 15 percent to their health care and 5.8 percent to retirement starting next year.

“We’re projecting for next year’s budget all of the suggestions Governor Walker has in terms of employee contributions,” Karger said.


But this year, Karger, who said he’s confident that Walker’s legislation will be enacted soon, doesn’t have to worry about unions.

Karger said Wisconsin counties are “overwhelmingly” deciding to up employee contributions for next year, free from the oversight of unions and despite Judge Maryann Sumi’s ruling.
Based on that, it's pretty safe to say that he isn't very worker-friendly.

Mind you, it's not that he's against public servants getting a lavish salary and pension, as long as he's that public servant:
“Bradley Karger, Marathon County Administrator, has an estimated annual pension of $75,070*, based on his actual annual salary of $117,296, with an estimated lifetime payout of $2,026,882*. ”
I'm a little surprised that Walker hasn't snatched Karger up and gave him a job
Brad Karger
somewhere in his administration. They seem to be two peas in a pod.

I have it on good authority that we will soon be learning even more news that piles on the outrage of what has already happened, all of which will be due to the austerity measures taken by the so-called leaders of Marathon County. Any savings that the taxpayers thought they were going to see from these austerity measures will soon be gone and then some due to the county's failure to do the right thing instead of the right wing thing.

In the meantime, the good people of Marathon County can thank Karger for leading them over a fiscal cliff and being so nonchalant about the guard who is fighting for her life now. His contact information can be found here.


  1. My neighbor is a prison guard in Stanley. He hates public workers, including himself. He votes to RWP line every election. He takes the cuts and works 60 hours per week claiming this is the way it is supposed to be. How can he be so blind? He can't see past his austerity ideology.

    1. Many have been led to believe that their "station in life" is to be a peasant, and to be beholden to the wealthy. It's amazing how easily they have been deceived.

  2. The answer is simple. Wisconsin should deregulate prisons. Prisoners are more than capable of running prisons. Consider how many prisons are run by prisoners already.

    The money saved by deregulating prisons can be used to keep air traffic control towers open. Talk of increasing takeoff and landing fees to keep the air control towers staffed is nothing short of Marxism. The increased fees will devastate the pocketbooks of private pilots. This cannot stand.

  3. Call the office of the Dept of Corrections chairperson, (R) Rep Garey Bies and ask him also how much money the state pays to a Colorado firm for braclets and electronic services for tracking sexual offenders and the monitoring programs.


    April 4 hearing: http://docs.legis.wi.gov/raw/cid/818787

  4. Self-deport, self-regulate, self pleasure, the libertarian dream.

  5. No wonder Americans fo rProsperity are so desperate to protect ACT10 , because it actually hurts Wisconsinites......

  6. It should be interesting to see who Walker put's in to replace Hoenisch. I wonder which deputy is a member of the tea party of Wausau? That would be my guess as to the replacement.

  7. How many criminals did Homeland Security let free?

    1. There were 629 with criminal records who were released by Homeland Security. The rest were being deported, but being an undocumented alien is a civil offense that does not rise to the level of criminal. The reason ICE released the undocumented aliens is because they did not have the budget to deport as many at the rate they were deporting.

      Now if this is a problem for Republicans, then the Republican-controlled House (where all Federal budget bills originate according to the US Constitution) should include more budget for ICE so they can deport more undocumented aliens. If that creates a bigger budget deficit, then raise revenues.

    2. Wow, only 629 Criminals.

      Guess again Mr. I'm OK with releasing criminals into the populated areas my children play in.

      Hope they don't get raped...

  8. For 13 years I was a CO for Marathon County. It was the blatant disregard for officer's safety that finally made me realize my life was worth more than the meager wages, shoddy working conditions and being told if you don't like it find another job there are 100 replacements for you. For YEARS officer's pleaded with administration and the Sheriff to implement more stringent rules pertaining to inmates, but these pleas have fallen on deaf ears. As far as Brad Karger is concerned, ask him how many times he has visited the jail and seen the deplorable working conditions these officers work in on a daily basis....I can tell you that would be a big fat 0!!!!


  9. How is it that a new jail built in 1999 can be 50% over it's designed capacity a mere 14 years later? Has the population of Marathon county risen 50%? Or, is there a problem with judges over-sentencing people? Is there some sort of financial incentive for incarceration?

    It needs to stated that the under-staffing of prisons and jails is dangerous for both guards and prisoners, most of whom committed non-violent offenses.

    1. The prison population figures have been part of the plan to get the highest bidders for the state sell-off (to no-bid contractors) when the state prisons are finally sold off to private contractors. (R)Rep Bies has assured us that this is not in the cards so guess what we should be expecting?

      See Rep Bies contact information in my previous and give him a call.

    2. One of the reasons Marathon County has an exploding jail population is drug trade. Due to the convenience of Hwy 29 & Hwy 39 intersecting, Marathon County is the perfect location for drug trafficking to occur.

    3. Actually Marathon County ships in inmates from more crowded areas such as Milwaukee or Madison. Make money for the county, all the while further overpopulating and already overpopulated jail, and further overworking an already overworked staff.

  10. There is no incentive for potential new employees to want to work or apply to the Marathon County Jail. When act 10 was passed, Brad Karger and the County Board felt everyone had too many luxuries, and decided to strip a majority of them. One including overtime. In Corrections, Officers work a 4 day on, 2 day off rotation- 8 hour shifts. With the reduction of staff, Some days we are required to work 12-16 hours for coverage then return 8 hours later to work our normal scheduled hours. Typically these are mandatory. In order to get overtime we must work over a certain number of hours in a 28 day period, however you don't get the additional 1/2 pay until the following pay period. Many of us are used to working long hours but the price we pay is fatigue, stress, and the sense of being overwhelmed. The only reward we have for our hard work is our own sense of dedication. Someone has to do this job!

    Brad Karger now shows such concern for our safety, however not long ago he was heard saying our job was "easy!" in fact "A monkey could do that job!" Brad, have you ever been in the jail and seen what we do or deal with?? That would be NO!

    Everyday we go to work, kiss our families and tell them we love them because that could be the day we don't come home.... So yes Brad, each and everyone one of us think of our mortality when we put on the uniform.

  11. For one thing, the Marathon County Jail does not have 47 Full time employees. It has 33. The inflated numbers are including officers who work at the Juvenile Detention facility, which is approximately seven miles away from the jail, officers who have been deployed to war and a few on light duty. We have been running the jail with an average of seven officers on the floor at a given time. Seven officers for 280 inmates! It is insane to say staffing levels did not contribute to last Wednesdays attack and the really sad part is there is no foreseeable solution in the next year. No one wants to work at Marathon County. Corrections officers haven't had a pay raise in at least four years. They make less now than ten years ago. There is no one on the waiting list to be hired. No union. You have to work over 171 hours in a 28 day period to earn time and one half. Any time off you take during that period counts against your total hours.

    We had to beg Administration to let us carry Pepper spray. Only supervisors were allowed to carry a taser until three days ago when officers threatened to walk out. Inmates are targeting certain CO's and many were thrilled when Officer Christensen was assaulted.

    The blame lies with the County Board, Karger and the Jail Administrator and I pray to God there isn't another incident.

  12. There is no way to measure how this over crowding is affecting inmates who have mental health issues. It is not a secret to those who work in, or have worked in, corrections that many of Wisconsin's prisoners have serious mental health needs. Our prisons are NOT staffed to address these needs nor are County Jails.
    Mental health issues are generally exasperated by stress. Stress from overcrowding. Stress from confinement while waiting for trial. Stress b/c there medical needs are not being met.
    I am NOT condoning what happened but simply pointing out that overcrowding is dangerous to EVERYONE. Staffing patterns only contribute to this. When I pointed out to our local State Senator a few years ago that it is up to the representatives of the state to make the decisions about how corrections staff are treated he smirked and said, "I think the people of Wisconsin are speaking loud and clear." What he meant was, persons who are not in the business, persons who have NEVER stepped foot inside the walls or fences with razor wire, are getting to make "popular" decisions. Thank Scott Walker for that.
    Sadly, no one outside the world of corrections cares that CO's are being assaulted. No.one. Certainly not our state representatives (and county officials) who are only too willing to keep jails and prisons understaffed, loaded with untreated men and women with mental health problems and exhausted employees.