Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism
Cruel and Unusual

Lawmakers Demand Response to Allegations of Inmate Abuse

Milwaukee Democrats call on the Department of Corrections to respond to allegations of abuse at Waupun Correctional Institution.

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Waupun Correctional Institution has a drawn a large number of complaints from inmates alleging mistreatment by guards. Photo by Lauren Fuhrmann of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.

Waupun Correctional Institution has a drawn a large number of complaints from inmates alleging mistreatment by guards. Photo by Lauren Fuhrmann of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.

Six Democratic Wisconsin lawmakers have written to the state Department of Corrections demanding action regarding allegations of abuse of inmates by guards at Waupun Correctional Institution.

“The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism has published a series of articles that have drawn great interest and concern from many of our constituents,” the lawmakers wrote in a Sept. 9 letter to DOC Secretary Ed Wall. They said they were writing in hopes of prompting further dialogue on the issue.

The lawmakers noted that Wisdom, a faith-based state advocacy group, has received no reply to its earlier letters to Wall and to Republican Gov. Scott Walker, seeking an investigation into the allegations. They called for “a full and thoughtful response and/or dialogue of how DOC plans to address these allegations, what steps are taken to educate correctional officers on appropriate use of force, and how all parties can work together moving forward.”

DOC spokeswoman Joy Staab, in an email, declined to say whether Wall would meet with or respond to either the lawmakers or Wisdom. “The department remains focused on our mission of protecting the public, our staff and those in our charge,” she wrote.

Signing the letter were state Sen. Nikiya Harris Dodd and state Reps. Mandela Barnes, Evan Goyke, LaTonya Johnson, Sandy Pasch and Christine Sinicki. All live in Milwaukee except Pasch, who lives in Shorewood.

In July, the Center published a three-part series regarding allegations of abuse in the segregation unit at Waupun, based on prisoner lawsuits, complaints, interviews and letters. It identified 40 allegations of physical or psychological staff-on-inmate abuse involving 33 inmates dating back to 2011.

Incident reports provided by Waupun officials confirmed that inmates were subjected to the use of force, including tasers, pepper spray, knee strikes and takedowns, and in some cases sustained injuries. But the reports portrayed the prisoners as instigators, saying staff used only necessary force.

Two-thirds of those allegations involved a single correctional officer, Joseph Beahm, who has worked in Waupun’s segregation unit since 2006. Beahm has never been disciplined for any inmate-related infraction, the Center reported.

Bill Lueders is the Money and Politics Project director at the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (www.WisconsinWatch.org). The Center produces the project in partnership with MapLight.

The Center collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.

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8 thoughts on “Cruel and Unusual: Lawmakers Demand Response to Allegations of Inmate Abuse”

  1. Andy says:

    This is great– Dems, once again, as throughout History, being more concerned with the criminals than with the victims who these criminals raped, robbed, maimed, took hostage, beat the stuffing out of, tortured, murdered. I hope they keep it up and make a BIG deal out of it. That will help normal, everyday citizens make the correct political decision when it comes time to vote for those who prefer an orderly, lawful society. Go for it, Bill … do as much damage as you can to the Democrats involved. As we all know, none of the prisoners did whatever crime they were convicted of, and all of the prisoners are being treated oh, so badly.

  2. PMD says:

    Andy, do you believe there are ever valid cases of prisoner abuse? Or, since they are convicted criminals, do you believe prisoners can’t really be abused? Should a civil society be judged at all by how they treat the least among us?

    And seriously it’s really sad to see you resort to ridiculous and inaccurate rhetoric that the likes of WCD spew around here regularly. Absurdly broad generalizations like “Democrats care more about criminals than victims” is beneath you.

  3. Andy says:

    Nah. Revolving door justice systems run by Democrat district attorneys, administered by weak-kneed liberal Democrat judges (LOOK at the record of light charging, plea bargaining, deferred or weak sentences, the need for the Legislature to impose mandatory minimum sentences, the lawsuits filed by the left leaning and Democrat dominated ACLU) and the intense frustration of law and order cops on the front lines fighting the vicious thugs and lawbreakers. The Democrat party long ago ceased to be the home of JFK-type centrist-conservative, law and order Democrats. Prisoners ALWAYS have it easier than their victims– I fight for victim’s rights, not for the perpetrators. Stop giving yourself such an easy pass on the issues I raise and force you to address. Dems are soft on crime. Fact that the record more than proves.

  4. PMD says:

    You seem to be a little grumpy today. That’s too bad. Your broad generalizations are nothing but conservative talking points, and they are foolish nonsense.

    Wouldn’t you say that around here there is a lot of law enforcement frustration with GOP legislators and their refusal to pass tougher gun laws?

  5. Kyle says:

    Really PMD? That’s the route you’re going with that? I can’t speak for Andy, but I’ll concede that people around ‘here’ (either Milwaukee or UrbanMilwaukee) are frustrated that the GOP isn’t making currently legal things illegal. Meanwhile, conservatives are frustrated that Milwaukee isn’t putting people in prison for currently illegal things, to include current gun laws. Not all Democrats everywhere ever, just the ones in Milwaukee who are in a position to do something about it.

    Regarding the allegations, I don’t think there’s enough information here to draw any informed conclusions. What’s the rate of allegations at other prisons? And what percentage of those are found to have merit? 40 instances dating back 3-4 years is maybe once a month, but it’s not hard to imagine one prisoner doing something stupid once a month. I’ll concede that it doesn’t look good that a single officer is involved in the majority of complaints, but that’s hardly enough information to know what’s going on.

  6. PMD says:

    Yes there is frustration from and aimed at both sides, but that’s a far cry from ludicrous blanket statements. And I’m not suggesting that Andy lose sleep at night over allegations of prisoner abuse. But I do think he’s being a little callous. Do prisoners have any rights? Only non-violent prisoners? Do we seriously investigate allegations of prisoner abuse, especially when so many involve one guard, or do we just chalk them up to disgruntled criminals seeking attention?

  7. Observer says:

    Sorry, do we lock up convicted criminals and just punish them or do we want to rehabilitate them? Some conservatives want everyone locked up. Caught drunken driving? Lock ’em up. Caught smoking a joint? Lock ’em up. Want to pay for that? Oh no, I want lower taxes. btw, I don’t want drunks driving on our roads. I think they need to confiscate repeat drunken drivers vehicles. No exceptions. The car is borrowed? Too bad, you should have known better than to lend a car to someone without a license and one that has a drinking problem. I swear some conservatives would toss the Bill of Rights save the Second Amendment.

  8. Kyle says:

    Maybe it’s an issue of terminology. Perhaps my willingness to have it investigated further and the Democratic lawmakers “demanding action” are really the same thing. Go ahead and look into it. If something needs to be changed regarding the way the prison is run or regarding specific personnel, then hopefully we’ll find it and improve upon it. But demanding action and publishing a guard’s name is publicly shaming him before you have any evidence he actually did anything wrong. In fairness, why don’t we publish the names of the prisoners with multiple complaints? 40 complaints by 33 people, shouldn’t be too hard to check the list. Let’s publicly shame everyone. Then, when it’s later determined who was actually at fault, we’ll just ask Google to forget everyone else.

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