PORTAGE, Wis. - After 23 days, the Columbia Correctional Institution is no longer on lockdown. While the Department of Corrections said the lockdown was part of a routine search to ensure safety for inmates, staff and visitors, many aren't buying it.
In previous reports, the DOC issued a statment saying:
"Lockdowns at Institutions are periodically done in order to conduct a safe and thorough search. The main objective of the current lockdown at Columbia Correctional Institution (CCI) is to perform a complete and thorough search of the facility in an effort to rid the Institution of any contraband that may have been introduced into the facility over time. Our staff continue to perform the search of the facility, and as the search progresses, the status of the lockdown will be monitored.
"Due to the ongoing process at CCI, we are not commenting on the reason for the lockdown as it could compromise the integrity and safety of the search or any potentially related investigations.
"Throughout the lockdown, inmates have received all meals in their cell including at least one hot meal per day. We continue to conform to the caloric and nutritional standards for meals that inmates receive. Showers for inmates will continue on a routine basis for the duration of the search. We continue to take steps to return CCI to normal operations while prioritizing the safety of inmates and staff."
However, one inmate we spoke with said those statements weren't entirely true.
"Although they told you guys we were getting hot meals, it took at least a week before we got a hot meal," Dontrell LeFlore said. "That was only Monday through Friday. We were asking them, 'What's up with the weekend?' And they were like, 'Well, no hot meals on the weekend.' It was hard to get this information out because we couldn't call home. We were scared to write because they open up our mail before it goes out. Now speaking out, I'm putting myself at risk. Being cut off from the world like that, that has never happened. In my 19 years in prison, I have never spent that much time without access to a phone or a visit."
The DOC responded, saying, "In regards to the statement that inmates were not receiving one hot meal a day during the lockdown, institution staff have confirmed the inmates were receiving those meals as described."
LeFlore also said after his wife spoke out expressing her concerns, he now fears retaliation.
"The retaliation is definitely something we are concerned with," LeFlore said. "They took some of our clothes. We don't have our state-issued boots. You have to wear state boots to go on the visits. They know that taking the boots denies people from having visits with their families. Visits are tomorrow."
While the DOC hasn't confirmed why the lockdown took place beyond stating it was part of routine search, we've previously reported the 81st Assembly District representative, Dave Considine, saying that cellphones were found in some of the inmates' cells, which prompted a search and investigation.
Visitation and other inmate programs and activities will resume Feb. 8.
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