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Act 10 Creates Corrections Crisis in Wisconsin

by David Patterson  |  July 24, 2015

Act 10 Creates Corrections Crisis in Wisconsin In 2010, Wisconsin’s Dept. of Corrections boasted near full employment with well-trained, experienced corrections officers who considered the job a career and earned a fair wage with good benefits. Act 10 changed everything.

In 2010, Wisconsin’s Department of Corrections (DOC) boasted near full employment with well-trained, experienced corrections officers who considered the job a career and earned a fair wage with good benefits.

Then came Governor Walker’s Act 10. The law stripped COs and all state employees of the ability to bargain with management over wages and benefits.

Today, Wisconsin’s DOC is desperate. It faces record retirements, more than 400 vacancies to fill, forced overtime, record overtime costs of $9.3 million and nearly $12 million in sick time costs. As a result, Wisconsin communities are less safe today.

“For the DOC and for COs, the situation is bad and getting worse,” said Mike Fox, interim executive director of AFSCME Council 32, which represents corrections officers. “Vacancies are growing, and the state can't hire replacements fast enough to keep up.”

Before passage of Act 10, having a strong voice on the job kept morale and professional pride high. An employee survey conducted by the DOC last year found 82 percent cited ‘staff morale’ as the most pressing issue. Some 52 percent raised a red flag about staff retention and 45 percent cited staff safety and wellness as a most pressing issue.

Pay for state COs has fallen sharply and employee costs for benefits keep going up. Neighboring states and many county jails are paying better than the state of Wisconsin.

Iowa’s starting wage is $18.02. In Illinois, the trainee salary is $20.57 an hour. COs in both states have a union contract. In Wisconsin, a CO’s starting pay is $15.34 an hour. Starting pay in Wisconsin’s Brown County jail is $19.11 and $21.18 an hour in Outagamie County.

In 2010, there were only 88 CO vacancies across 21 adult correction facilities in Wisconsin. Now there’s five times that number. These jobs are no longer considered careers for well-trained corrections professionals and are treated as a stepping-stone job until they can find something better, according to Fox.

“Low salaries, dangerously short-staffed prisons, fewer experienced correctional officers, more inexperienced recruits, short-staffing, low morale and mandatory overtime are not the ingredients to attract and sustain a qualified workforce,” said Fox. “Or for a safe and effective prison system that protects Wisconsin’s communities.”

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