Prison Warden and Staff Facing Charges Over Inmate Deaths in Wisconsin

Madison, Wisconsin – The warden of a maximum-security prison in Wisconsin and eight of his staff members were hit with charges on Wednesday in connection with the deaths of four inmates over the past year. The charges stem from investigations that revealed unsettling circumstances, such as one inmate not being discovered until 12 hours after his death.

Randall Hepp, the warden at Waupun Correctional Institution, faces a charge of misconduct in public office, while the other staff members are facing charges of inmate abuse, a felony. Some of them are also accused of misconduct in public office. Dodge County Sheriff Dale Schmidt, who spearheaded the probe, expressed concerns about the operation of the prison, labeling it as “dangerous and reckless.”

The investigations disclosed troubling details about how multiple inmates were treated leading up to their deaths, including one inmate having his water supply cut off for an extended period, another being left unmonitored despite refusing to eat, and the lack of direct contact with a doctor due to being in restrictive housing. Hepp, who could face up to 3 1/2 years in prison if convicted, had previously announced his retirement, stating that he had assisted in enhancing safety and order at the facility.

Amid the ongoing investigations and federal lawsuits tied to the inmate deaths, Jared Hoy, head of the Department of Corrections, revealed that over 20 individuals are under internal investigation, with some placed on administrative leave or terminated since the probe commenced a year ago. Governor Tony Evers’ office shared that federal investigators are looking into a suspected smuggling ring involving prison employees, raising further concerns about the facility’s administration.

In response to the charges filed, Governor Evers emphasized the importance of accountability and justice for those responsible for the mismanagement. The lockdown imposed at Waupun last year due to guard shortages, as well as the pending federal lawsuit by inmates citing inhumane conditions and limited visitation, further highlight the systemic issues within the corrections system.

As the investigations continue, Schmidt emphasized the need for transparency and thorough completion of the inquiries into the troubling incidents at Waupun. The calls to address the issues within the state prisons, as raised by Republican lawmakers seeking closure of facilities like Waupun and Green Bay, shed light on the urgency for reform in the correctional system to prevent such tragedies in the future.