DOC completes investigation into escape at Columbia Correctional Institution

By: - July 24, 2020 12:28 pm
Department Of Corrections Secretary Kevin Carr (Photo by Isiah Holmes)

Department Of Corrections Secretary Kevin Carr (Photo by Isiah Holmes)

On July 16, the Department of Corrections (DOC) announced that its Office of Internal Affairs had completed 13 personnel investigations involving several staff. The investigations came in the wake of an escape incident in April at Columbia Correctional Institution (CCI) in Portage, Wisconsin.

As a result of the investigation, seven staff members were terminated, and one was placed on a five-day suspension. One staff member was cleared, while four others resigned as the investigations progressed. A DOC press release notes that six of the eight employees who have been disciplined have the right to appeal the decision through a grievance process with the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission.

“These are tough decisions that bring pleasure to no one in our agency,” said DOC Secretary Kevin Carr. “But I cannot tolerate job performance that compromises public safety. We take that responsibility very seriously.” On April 16, two people escaped from the prison in the early-morning hours and were later captured in Rockford, Illinois the next day.

“We want to once more recognize the efforts of the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office, City of Portage Police Department, Rockford Police Department, U.S. Marshall’s Office and FBI in capturing the fugitives,” said Carr. “We are grateful for their hard work and cooperation.”

The press release highlights that the Office of Internal Affairs for DOC was reinstituted in December 2019. “The office has worked quickly and thoroughly to investigate the escape,” it reads, “conducting 90 interviews and completing the 13 personnel investigations in just a few months. Additionally, the Division of Adult Institutions has conducted an after-action review to examine and address CCI’s procedures and policy related to safety and security.”

Carr described the “combination of performance failures and long-standing, systemic issues related to security procedures at CCI that pre-date this administration,” which were reflected by the investigations. Although the DOC can’t disclose details of the procedure and policy issues which were identified, it says it’s taking steps to correct the problems.

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Isiah Holmes
Isiah Holmes

Isiah Holmes is a journalist and videographer, and a lifelong resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Holmes' video work dates back to his high school days at Wauwatosa East High, when he made a documentary about the local police department. Since then, his writing has been featured in Urban Milwaukee, Isthmus, Milwaukee Stories, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Services, Pontiac Tribune, the Progressive Magazine, Al Jazeera, and other outlets. He was also featured in the 2018 documentary The Chase Key, and was the recipient of the Sierra Club Great Waters Group 2021 Environmental Hero of the Year award. The Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council also awarded Holmes its 2021-2022 Media Openness Award for using the open records laws for investigative journalism. Holmes was also a finalist in the 2021 Milwaukee Press Club Excellence in Journalism Awards alongside the rest of the Wisconsin Examiner's staff. The Silver, or second place, award for Best Online Coverage of News was awarded to Holmes and his colleague Henry Redman for an investigative series into how police responded to the civil unrest and protests in Kenosha during 2020. Holmes was also awarded the Press Club's Silver (second-place) award for Public Service Journalism for articles focusing on police surveillance in Wisconsin.