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Charges Renew Call to Close Shawshank-like Prison

Wisconsin’s oldest prison has long been a target for closure amid concerns about deterioration, extended lockdowns and staffing shortfalls. The charges brought Wednesday against Randall Hepp, the warden at the maximum-security Waupun Correctional Institution, and eight of his staffers in the deaths of two inmates are only fueling calls for action, The Associated Press reports. “That place is a disaster,” said attorney Lonnie Story, who represents families of three people who died in the prison within the past year along with inmates on a separate case, who filed a class-action lawsuit alleging that they cannot access healthcare, are allowed only one shower per week, receive no educational programming, are not allowed in-person visits with their families and that they live in the midst of a rat and roach infestation.

Republicans and Democrats want to close the old prison in Waupun and one in Green Bay but are concerned about job losses and the high cost of building a new prison. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has rebuffed calls for closure, saying that can’t be done without broader criminal justice reform and a plan for housing the roughly 1,700 inmates who would be displaced. Democrats proposed reforms that didn’t call for hiring more guards or building new facilities. Meanwhile, Republican calls to close one or both of the prisons have failed. The state Corrections Department is investigating the prison’s operations, and the governor last year asked the U.S. Justice Department to look into contraband smuggling at the facility.


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