The Marathon County jail is unsafe and needs a wholesale culture change, according to a citizen review panel formed after a corrections officer was injured in an attack.
Among the most troubling of the panel's finding was that drugs and other contraband were being smuggled into the jail by work-release inmates and through the jail's laundry, which is staffed by inmate-trustees, according to the Daily Herald Media.
The five-member panel was formed after an inmate critically injured a corrections officer on March 27.
"(The jail) suffers from poor communication, low staff morale, inconsistent training standards, defective or outdated equipment and an ineffective administration," the panel's report says. "These issues — combined with outdated or ineffective jail procedures, concerns over staff scheduling and assignments, and flaws in the jail's physical layout and design — have contributed to an unsafe working and living environment."
After the attack, a Daily Herald Media review of county records revealed that several jail inspection reports raised concerns about jail problems. The reports were allegedly ignored by Sheriff Randy Hoenisch, who announced his retirement in February. The jail administrator also resigned.
"The evidence says most of the barriers to progress are out of the way," said Paul Jones, chairman of the review panel. "There are probably some people in the organization who will be asked to either perform at a higher level or move on."
Chad Billeb, acting chief deputy of the sheriff's department who has been placed in charge of the jail overhaul, said most jail staff members will adjust to the changes, but some might not.
"If you don't perform, you're not going to be staying," Billeb said. "Do your job and there's not going to be an issue."
The county and Sheriff Scott Parks already have begun addressing some of the concerns raised in the report.
The department hopes to hire more corrections officers. Officials then plan to complete the National Institute of Corrections survey and determine whether more corrections officers need to be hired to ensure safe oversight of a crowded jail.