“I hope it’s just a start:” warden addresses pay increase for correctional workers

PORTAGE, Wis (WMTV) - Questions still loom on how to address a shortage of prison workers after the Dept. of Corrections (DOC) launched a program that offers more pay to officers and sergeants at some of its prisons.

The Critical Vacancy Add-On Program, which began in late April, provides a $5 dollar per hour pay increase for officers and sergeants at six of the state’s prisons, including Columbia Correctional Institution (CCI), Dodge Correctional Institution (DCI), Green Bay Correctional Institution (GBCI), Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake Schools (LHS/CLS), Taycheedah Correctional Institution (TCI) and Waupun Correctional Institution (WCI).

The warden for Columbia Correctional, Susan Novak, said they have roughly 810 inmates on any given day. She said, in the more than three decades she has worked in corrections, there have been changes.

“I think throughout the years the rate of pay has not kept up with the private sector, and so we find ourselves in these high amounts of vacancies right now,” she said.

According DOC, security needs, vacancy rates, inmate population and more helped determine which institutions received the pay bump.

The Legislative Audit Bureau released an audit in early May detailing the vacancy rate for all security positions within corrections from 2017-2018 was 14 percent. That same year, the department paid $1.9 million in overtime, according to that same audit.

DOC released data to NBC15 pertaining to the vacancy rates at the adult correctional institutions.

The following details the total vacancy rate at the six institutions in the program as of May 11:

WCI (Waupun Correctional Institution): 33%
GBCI (Green Bay Correctional Institution): 20%
TCI (Taycheedah Correctional Institution): 21%
CCI (Columbia Correctional Institution): 30%
DCI (Dodge Correctional Institution): 27%

The sixth institution includes the two within the Division of Juvenile Corrections. Both Lincoln Hill and Copper Lake School were at 22 percent vacancy.

Novak said, since the pay increase was announced, there has been in a big change in morale among staff.

“I think staff have a little skip to their step, you can see some of the relief they feel,” she said.

However, that is not the case for all correctional workers who are still waiting for their raise. Some employees working at the 30 institutions left out of the program said the move is a “slap in the face.”

Sgt. Jon Lafontaine, who works at RedGranite Correctional Institution, said he has worked in corrections for more than two decades in both maximum and medium security prisons. He said the jobs are the same and employees work just as hard, not matter the security level.

“There’s a lot of disappointed people who work here, and I’m one of them,” he said.

DOC also sent NBC15 data detailing transfer requests to the institutions included in the program.

TRANSFER REQUESTS FROM APRIL 14-22 (before the pay increase):

CCI: 1
DCI: 0
TCI: 4
WCI: 0


CCI: 72
DCI: 113
GBCI: 72
TCI: 59
WCI: 71

While both sides of the political aisle seem to agree providing raises for correctional workers is the right thing to do, several Republicans in the State Assembly signed a letter to Gov. Tony Evers and the DOC secretary-designee that said in part, changes to compensation need to be addressed, but only offering the raise to some is ‘fundamentally unfair.’

DOC Secretary-designee Kevin Carr issues a statement that said in part: “Although this add-on is a relief to some of our institutions, we also recognize it will create challenges for others. This supplemental add-on is meant as a short-term solution to much larger problems that have been facing the DOC for years.”

Novak said, while the increase has been positive, she hopes it is just the start for the sake of the other institutions.

“I hope it is just a start, because working in corrections is a tough environment,” she said.