Wisconsin prisoners locked in cells for days report walls speckled with feces and blood. Birds have moved in, leaving droppings on the food trays and inmates are given ice bags to keep inmates cool. Blocked from visiting the law library, prisoners have missed court deadlines and jeopardized appeals. Unable to access toilet paper, one prisoner tore his clothing into patches to use for tissue. One thousand inmates at Waupun Correctional Institution, a maximum-security prison in southeast Wisconsin, have been confined mostly to their cells for more than four months, ever since prison officials locked down the facility and halted many programs and services, reports the New York Times. More than two dozen inmates at Waupun, the state’s oldest prison, say that since late March they have been forced to eat all meals in their cells, received no visits from friends or family, seen complaints of pain ignored and are allowed limited, if any, fresh air or recreation time.
“There were multiple threats of disruption and assaultive behavior toward staff or other persons in our care, but there was not one specific incident that prompted the facility to go into modified movement,” said Kevin Hoffman, the correction department’s deputy director of communications. The state says nearly 100 assaults have occurred there in the past fiscal year. Others familiar with the sprawling penitentiary suggest another reason for the restrictions: staffing shortages. More than half of the prison’s 284 full-time positions for correctional officers and sergeants remain unfilled. The shortages have severely hobbled the facility’s ability to operate safely, according to former wardens, correctional officers and members of the prison’s community board. “If I was the warden right now, I’d have that institution on lockdown, too,” said Mike Thurmer, who once ran the prison and now sits on its community relations board. “You can’t have a 40 or 50 percent vacancy rate and not have at the very minimum a modified lockdown.”