By Sen. Howard Marklein
The Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC), under the direction of Governor Tony Evers’ Secretary-Designee, Kevin Carr, recently decided to give a $5 per hour increase to Correctional Officers and other staff in every maximum security prison in Wisconsin – except the Boscobel Prison.
The DOC told me that they did not give Boscobel the same raise as other comparable prisons because Boscobel doesn’t have as dire a vacancy rate as the other prisons. Yes, they still have vacancies, but their rate isn’t as bad as other prisons, so their staff doesn’t get a raise. So, basically, the staff at Boscobel is being punished for doing a good job of retention and recruitment. All of their staff lose out on a $5 per hour raise because they are not suffering enough.
The DOC has made an unfair decision and it is a mistake.
I believe that the DOC may create a new vacancy problem at the Boscobel Prison by picking winners and losers. Why would anyone, who is able to move to another facility, stay? They have the opportunity to make $10,000 more per year for doing the same job.
When the DOC announced this decision, they did not provide this information to staff at Boscobel or the legislators who represent them until we found out from workers at other institutions. Once they did, Rep. Travis Tranel (R-Cuba City) and I immediately reached out to Secretary-Designee Carr to request his reconsideration. To date, all we have received is a fact sheet on the raise pilot program for other institutions and a withdrawn invitation for a listening session.
Despite Evers’ consistent call for transparency and bi-partisan collaboration, I was personally UN-invited to a listening session between DOC leadership and staff at the Boscobel Prison on May 8, 2019. Several constituents who work there contacted me to tell me about the session and encouraged me to attend so I could hear what they were going to hear firsthand. I planned to attend and communicated this to DOC leadership.
On the morning of the meeting, I received a phone call and was told that I was not allowed to attend the meeting because it was an “internal” meeting and not open to the public. As the legislator who represents these workers and whom is also working on the state budget, I thought this reason was rather concerning.
Further, I have been told by a staff member that the DOC officials told them, at the meeting, that if they want a raise, they need to grow their vacancy rate (in other words – fail) or start blaming legislators. Again, I didn’t hear this first hand, because I was uninvited, but it is deeply concerning that leadership in the Department would lead their staff to this conclusion.
I was also told that staff at Boscobel were told at the meeting that they will not be “allowed” to transfer to another institution that is paying more for the first three months of this program and even then, it will be based on seniority. So, not only is the department offering other workers more money for the same job, they may also be preventing the staff at Boscobel from leaving now that we have pointed out the threat that the DOC is creating to the vacancy rate at Boscobel. If this is true, it directly contradicts the “FAQ” document the DOC gave to me. I have asked the DOC to tell me if this is true, but they have not responded. I hope this is a mistake, but this is what one staff member took away from the listening session.
I continue to be disappointed in the department’s decision to give every other maximum security prison a temporary $5 per hour increase in their wages. The staff at Boscobel should not be punished for doing a good job. I have asked the Secretary-Designee to reconsider this decision.
In addition, as a member of the Joint Finance Committee, I will continue to work on the overall compensation plan for the Department of Corrections. This has always been the plan.
We are in the middle of the State Budget process and compensation for DOC will be part of this conversation. However, I have concerns about how this unfair, inequitable pilot-program will impact our conversation. I hope that Evers and the DOC will work with us to solve these problems and restore transparency and collaboration in this process. No matter what, I will continue to work hard on behalf of the people I serve.
Howard Marklein represents Wisconsin’s 17th Senate District.