DOC’s largest class of correctional officers of 2022 graduates, pointing to encouraging trend

MADISON, Wis. — Graduates from the largest Wisconsin Department of Corrections class of the year got their badges Thursday, and they’re ready to take on a tough job in a field that really needs them.

“I know there’s a lot of burnout. People are tired, and I’d like to help out,” said graduate Lt. Laura Schwartz.

Staffing shortages have caused issues in prisons and jails across the state.

Last week, the Green County Jail announced it would no longer be accepting female inmates due to a lack of female staff. The women who were being held in the Green County Jail were sent to Iowa County.

RELATED: Women in Green Co. jail sent to Iowa Co. due to staffing shortages

Green County Sheriff Jeff Skatrud said it was a tough decision, but when they lost their female staff, it just wasn’t possible to house women in the jail anymore. He said it has been hard to get and keep staff in the jail.

“Other opportunities are plentiful right now. It’s just hard to get people to stay for long periods of time,” said Skatrud.

Other employers, he said, are able to offer better hours and pay, leaving Green County in the dust.

But they are not alone. Corrections facilities across the state have been facing staffing shortages for months.

In March, Gov. Tony Evers announced a pay raise for state correctional workers in Wisconsin in the hopes of attracting more people to fill the vacancies. The pay increase will last through June 2023 unless an extension is approved.

Evers and the Wisconsin Department of Corrections also enacted other strategies like referral and sign-on bonuses and increased social media marketing in an attempt to make corrections jobs more appealing, and so far, it seems these strategies may be working.

Thursday’s graduates make up the largest class of the year, and the next class of graduates will likely be even bigger. The Department of Corrections also says that correctional officer applications have been trending up since June.

“There’s a great deal of hope that we’re starting to turn the corner on our vacancy issues,” said Department of Corrections Secretary Kevin Carr. “Our next class is going to be between 60 and 70 individuals that are going to be able to start to provide some much-needed relief to our overworked staff in many of our facilities that have high vacancy rates.”

While the new graduates can’t help with the staffing issues at the county level, Skatrud is hopeful that the increasing interest points to an encouraging trend that could help solve the problems at his jail.

“I am optimistic that it’ll turn around. Throughout my career, there have been different challenges that rise up and when you’ve got really good people, you get through it,” said Skatrud. “We’ll meet that challenge. We’ll get staffed up and we’ll come out just fine on the other side.”