‘Here & Now’ Highlights: Jason Stein, Steve Wildeck

The Wisconsin Department of Corrections expects to be able to recruit and retain more correctional officers with a pay increase that takes the hourly wage from $20 to $33 — Wisconsin Policy Forum’s Jason Stein said it may take some time to fill these positions. The Universities of Wisconsin announced it will curtail in-person instruction at two-year campuses in West Bend and Fond du Lac at the same time confirming the closure of the campus in Richland Center. The former Vice-Chancellor of UW Colleges & UW Extension Steve Wildeck is critical of the decision.

Jason Stein
Research Director, Wisconsin Policy Forum

  • Three Wisconsin prisons have such significant shortages of correctional officers that they are on some form of lockdown or modified movement for inmates. At the maximum security prison in Waupun, the vacancy rate for guards sits at about 53%. At the prison in Green Bay, it’s a 41% vacancy rate and it’s nearly 44% at the prison in Stanley. In its research report titled “Prison Blues,” the Wisconsin Policy Forum described the woes facing the state’s correctional system – from being understaffed and overcapacity with the number of people incarcerated. Stein said the labor market response to the staff shortages should start to address the problem.
  • Stein: “It’s going to help, obviously, across the labor market. We’ve seen employer challenges, turnover rates rising, and that’s across state government. But in our state, institutions are 24-7 institutions. That’s where it’s been most acute. I think the challenges in 2022, there were more than 2,000 vacancies within the prison system. You can’t simply bring someone in off the street, put them in a place like Waupun and have them walk the line. You have to train these people. So they’re going to turn the ship in the water. But it’s a big ship and a long turn. … You know, it took us years to get in this position of across state government and particularly within the prison system, having these vacancies and this gap between what the state was willing to pay and what people were willing to do, because coming to work every day in a prison is — newsflash — a very difficult job. And so it’s going to take time to get out of this hole.”

Steve Wildeck
Vice-Chancellor Emeritus, UW Colleges & UW Extension

  • The budget ax is swinging at Universities of Wisconsin campuses. UW-Platteville announced it is cutting more than 100 positions to make up a more than $9 million deficit. The system is also eliminating in-person instruction at two more two-year campuses — UW-Milwaukee Washington County and UW-Oshkosh Fond du Lac — after doing the same at UW-Platteville Richland, which is now shuttering entirely. In a statement accompanying that latter announcement, UW President Jay Rothman said, “It’s time for us to realign our branch campuses to current market realities and prepare for the future. The status quo is not sustainable.” Former Vice-Chancellor of UW Colleges & UW Extension Steve Wildeck said given enrollment slippage at campuses, the latest cuts are not a total surprise and anticipates continuing disintegration of the system.
  • Wildeck: “I think that the two-year campuses are in a very vulnerable spot. They have been attached to four-year campuses who will continue to see enrollment pressures. I think that the commitment and the promise that the UW System and the Board of Regents made to those communities back in the 1960s, in exchange, they got these campuses all under the local property tax dollar. I’m afraid that commitment and that partnership has been put off to the side and out of the conversation. We have to put that right back in the middle of the conversation, because that’s how these communities came to be.”

Watch new episodes of Here & Now at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays.

Editor’s note: PBS Wisconsin is a service of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Wisconsin Educational Communications Board.


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