September 12, 2014

Lawmakers want answers on abuse allegations at Waupun

Waupun Correctional Institution has a drawn a large number of complaints from inmates alleging mistreatment by guards.

Lauren Fuhrmann/Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism

Waupun Correctional Institution has a drawn a large number of complaints from inmates alleging mistreatment by guards.

Six Democratic Wisconsin lawmakers have written to the state Department of Corrections demanding action regarding allegations of abuse of inmates by guards at Waupun Correctional Institution.

“The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism has published a series of articles that have drawn great interest and concern from many of our constituents,” the lawmakers wrote in a Sept. 9 letter to DOC Secretary Ed Wall. They said they were writing in hopes of prompting further dialogue on the issue.

The lawmakers noted that Wisdom, a faith-based state advocacy group, has received no reply to its earlier letters to Wall and to Republican Gov. Scott Walker, seeking an investigation into the allegations. They called for “a full and thoughtful response and/or dialogue of how DOC plans to address these allegations, what steps are taken to educate correctional officers on appropriate use of force, and how all parties can work together moving forward.”

DOC spokeswoman Joy Staab, in an email, declined to say whether Wall would meet with or respond to either the lawmakers or Wisdom. “The department remains focused on our mission of protecting the public, our staff and those in our charge,” she wrote.

Signing the letter were state Sen. Nikiya Harris Dodd and state Reps. Mandela Barnes, Evan Goyke, LaTonya Johnson, Sandy Pasch and Christine Sinicki. All live in Milwaukee except Pasch, who lives in Shorewood.

In July, the Center published a three-part series regarding allegations of abuse in the segregation unit at Waupun, based on prisoner lawsuits, complaints, interviews and letters. It identified 40 allegations of physical or psychological staff-on-inmate abuse involving 33 inmates dating back to 2011.

Incident reports provided by Waupun officials confirmed that inmates were subjected to the use of force, including tasers, pepper spray, knee strikes and takedowns, and in some cases sustained injuries. But the reports portrayed the prisoners as instigators, saying staff used only necessary force.

Two-thirds of those allegations involved a single correctional officer, Joseph Beahm, who has worked in Waupun’s segregation unit since 2006. Beahm has never been disciplined for any inmate-related infraction, the Center reported.