MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin corrections officials said Tuesday that they are closing part of the Waupun prison and transferring inmates to other facilities as they deal with staffing shortages exacerbated by the coronavirus outbreak.
The Department of Corrections said it was closing a cell hall at the maximum-security Waupun Correctional Institution and sending its 220 inmates to other prisons.
The transfers will reduce the prison’s overall population by 20% and help address staff vacancies, corrections officials said.
The move came on the day Wisconsin reported 107 new deaths from COVID-19, which marked a single-day high for the state. Wisconsin has had 391,313 confirmed cases and 3,420 deaths from the disease since the pandemic started. The seven-day average of new cases was 3,905, continuing a decline that began two weeks ago. There were 1,845 people hospitalized because of the coronavirus as of Monday, which was down from the state’s high seen in mid-November.
“I am hopeful that there is something real in that decline,” said the state health secretary Andrea Palm.
Wisconsin’s COVID-19 death toll is the 25th highest of any state. It has the 31st highest death rate, with 60 deaths per 100,000 people, according to Johns Hopkins. There were 1,327 new cases per 100,000 people in Wisconsin over the past two weeks, which was the eighth highest rate in the country.
According to the state Department of Corrections, as of Monday there were 1,161 active cases among inmates. Eleven inmates have died of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. Spikes in confirmed cases in Wisconsin prisons have mirrored increases in the general population since mid-September.
The DOC Secretary Kevin Carr said the staffing shortages at Waupun were “not tied to any one, particular factor and did not happen overnight,” so the cell hall closure won’t fix all the issues, the State Journal reported.
“We think it is a step in the right direction,” Carr said.
The state prison system has historically struggled with staffing vacancies, but the problem has worsened with COVID-19. According to DOC data, 219 corrections employees were actively infected with the virus as of Monday and unable to work in the state’s prisons.
Since the start of the pandemic, 119 Waupun staff have self-reported testing positive for COVID-19, according to DOC.