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Evers’ COVID testing mandate puts prison security in peril

By M.D. Kittle

MADISON — Here’s something else the Evers administration has failed to think through: What happens when its COVID testing requirement depletes an already overworked, short-staffed Department of Corrections?

That’s the question 24-year DOC veteran Katy Krumm is asking as Gov. Tony Evers’ testing mandate takes full effect, according to emails obtained by Empower Wisconsin.

Krumm, who works at the Stanley Correctional Institution, expressed her concerns about what she sees as the unfairness of an executive branch directive that requires unvaccinated employees to get weekly COVID tests and report those results through an internal government tracking system. Corrections staff that fail to follow the protocols are subject to discipline, up to suspension and termination.

Krumm notes a scientific fact: Vaccinated people get COVID-19, too. They can spread the virus to others. But DOC does not require vaccinated staff to be tested, and they’re certainly not being threatened with discipline.

A significant number of DOC workers have not been vaccinated or have not reported their vaccination status, according to Krumm and others.

“Why are 40% of the DOC’s already overworked employees going to get disciplined for not uploading a Covid-19 test result …for not coming in on our day off to get swabbed, or not taking a home Covid-19 test, when the other 60% of staff can carry and spread the same virus????”,  Krumm asks in the email sent to Wisconsin lawmakers. She claims uploading test results is difficult to begin with  because of problems with the program.

The broader concern is that Wisconsin’s prisons will become much less safe and secure when the discipline starts to hit.

“Currently, the DOC has an alarming number of vacancies that they cannot fill and their employees are being mandated for overtime almost daily. Even with all of us being forced continuously, Correctional Institutions statewide are being forced to run their shifts dangerously short, close vital areas and services for inmates, or otherwise limit daily activities and movement,” Krumm wrote.

Things haven’t improved much since February, when nearly 700 corrections officer positions, about 15 percent of the guard jobs, were vacant, according to DOC data. As reported at the time, the staffing shortage drove overtime costs for salary to $60 million last year at the division that oversees the state’s 36 correctional facilities.

As of Friday, Department of Corrections had 10, 250 full-time staff. DOC’s vacancy rate  is 18 percent, according to agency spokesman John Beard.

Beard referred Empower Wisconsin to the state Department of Administration on questions regarding what the Evers administration will do to secure Wisconsin’s prisons if corrections officers are suspended or fired for refusing to comply with the mandate. DOA did not return an email seeking comment.

According to Krumm, when a DOC employee is suspended they are ineligible for overtime.

“Can you imagine what is going to happen in the next couple weeks when 40% of the already dismal workforce isn’t allowed to volunteer for overtime …? There will be no one left to fill the positions and meet the mission statement of the DOC,” she wrote. “This poorly thought out decision will cripple institutions all throughout Wisconsin. It will put DOC staff, inmates, and the community at risk.”

Krumm went on to write:

Based on the information available on the CDC website it appears that the DOC isn’t actually trying to keep anyone safe or trying to stop the spread of Covid-19. It appears that the  DOC is just trying to force everyone to make the health decision that they were told we should make, which isn’t their business. DOC employees DO NOT have to be vaccinated for measles, mumps, rubella, etc.… but we will be disciplined if we don’t the Covid-19 shot? This doesn’t make any sense. Especially when you realize that 60% of the employees who have been vaccinated ARE NOT GETTING TESTED and can spread the virus to everyone they come in contact with.

At the same time, Krumm notes, inmates do not have to be vaccinated, yet “DOC takes inmates off grounds to interact with persons in the public EVERYDAY, whether those outside people have been vaccinated or not.” And DOC now allows visitors inside the prisons regardless of their vaccination status.

Krumm said staff are required to report any symptoms and stay home if they are sick.

“We are doing everything correctly to stop the spread and have greatly surpassed all expectations from 2020 when the pandemic occurred,” she wrote. “Mandating a vaccine almost two years into the pandemic is pointless at best. We have already proven that we don’t need to have a shot to keep the inmates and ourselves safe. All we need is common sense and good sanitation processes, both of which we already have.”

Krumm asks lawmakers to reverse the directive before Wisconsin’s prisons “loose hundreds more good employees to bad policies.”

She asks her fellow corrections workers to contact lawmakers to intervene, to save a state agency on the “brink of collapse.”

“This is NOT an anti-vax email. Your vaccination status is your personal choice and there is no right or wrong answer there. This email is about crippling the DOC with poor policy that is 2 years too late to be relevant. If you agree and don’t want another 40% of employees to be removed from the “rotation” please write to the legislators below. The DOC is already on the brink of collapse, we can’t afford this…..” Krumm wrote.

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