Wisconsin DOC reverses course, releases COVID-19 inmate death tolls at individual prisons

Senate committee to vote on new prisons secretary

MADISON, Wis. — The Wisconsin Department of Corrections has released total death tolls due to COVID-19 at the prison facilities where the deaths occurred. To date, at least 25 prisoners have died from COVID-19 in Wisconsin; previously, the DOC has refused to release information about what facilities have had inmates die because of COVID-19.

Oshkosh and Waupun Correctional Institutions lead the list with four inmate deaths each. Stanley and Redgranite Correctional Institutions have each reported three inmate deaths; facilities at Racine, Fox Lake and Dodge have each reported two deaths.

One has died at Oakhill Correctional Institution in Dane County; a handful of other facilities have also reported a single death. Twelve facilities in total have reported at least one death.

Currently, there are no prison facilities in Wisconsin with more than 100 active COVID-19 cases; on Monday, there were 146 active cases statewide. That continues a downward trend in active cases among Wisconsin’s prisoners after spikes of between one and over two thousand active cases throughout mid-October and November. Several facilities including Dodge, Fox Lake, Kettle Moraine, Racine, Oshkosh, and Waupun Correctional Institutions have been the sites of massive outbreaks of hundreds of cases each.

“The Department of Corrections regularly reviews its response to COVID-19, including its public reporting through the Persons in Our Care Testing Dashboard,” DOC Secretary Kevin Carr said in a statement. “Our agency has and continues to strive for transparency while also maintaining the appropriate levels of privacy for staff and those in our care.”

Prisoners and advocates have previously complained of poorly-implemented safety protocols and contact between sick and healthy inmates at prisons reporting major outbreaks. Currently, Wisconsin’s incarcerated population is being considered for inclusion in the next phase of vaccinations along with people over 70, people living in congregate living environments, educators, first responders and others, according to discussions by a subcommittee of the Wisconsin State Medical Advisory Committee. The board, comprised of medical experts and advocates, provides recommendations to the state about who to include in vaccination phases; the Department of Health Services makes the final decision about who is ultimately included in a phase.

“I don’t want to wait until there’s a public health crisis–and there will be–to say ‘Oh, we should have included them,” DOC’s chief nursing officer Mary Muse said during a committee meeting on Friday. “So it’s difficult for me to vote for anything that does not have incarcerated populations in it.”