Lawsuit filed over worsening issues at Waupun prison

By: - October 30, 2023 4:09 am
Waupun prison

Waupun prison gates, with no-visitors sign, in the middle of a residential area in Waupun. (Wisconsin Examiner photo)

A lawsuit has been filed in federal court against the Department of Corrections (DOC), blasting conditions at the Waupun Correctional Institution (WCI) as “cruel and unusual conditions of confinement.” Men incarcerated within Wisconsin’s oldest prison have reported lack of access to medical treatment, restricted recreation time, no family visits, and other issues as the prison continues a months-long lockdown.

“I think the most important thing for people to understand is that no matter what these inmates may have done, their incarceration is what they’re being sentenced for,” attorney Lonnie Story told Wisconsin Examiner. “They shouldn’t be punished in addition or over and above that. That just amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.” The lawsuit alleges many issues which have long persisted in the prison have worsened under the lockdown. “Critically ill prisoners have begged prison officials for treatment, only to be told ‘be patient,’ ‘it’s all in your head,’ or ‘pray’ to be cured,” the complaint reads. “Despite warnings from their own employees, prisoners and their family members and advocates about the risk of serious injury and death to prisoners, Defendants are deliberately indifferent to the substantial risk of pain and suffering to prisoners, including deaths, which occur due to Defendants’ failure to provide minimally adequate health care, in violation of the Eighth Amendment.”


Waupun Complaint 1


Story explained that the biggest issues lay in the lack of timely and adequate health care. “They’re not getting the medication, they’re not getting the treatments that they need, the dental care that they need, all of these things,” he told  Wisconsin Examiner. “These guys have been suffering for months without getting their dental treatment. You got some guys that, like one in particular, has an exposed root in his mouth. And he’s had that for months now, without getting dental care. So, all of that is just being inhumane.”

Several men incarcerated at Waupun and their grievances are described in the complaint. One 62-year-old man with a severe eye condition has filed daily medical request forms to no avail, the complaint reads. He’s complained of pain, blurred vision, and dark spots. Another man endured a  tooth decayed down to the nerve for four months before  until the tooth was finally removed. The empty sockets left behind, however, later became infected. Several more weeks passed before he received medication for the infections. Other residents of the prison have suffered complications  from diabetes, kidney stones, broken teeth, auto-immune disorders, and other issues.

The lockdown, which restricts time for exercise and access to special dietary needs, has worsened many chronic illnesses among the prison population which require things like exercise or specific food to keep in check. Lonnie fears that this could have a cascade effect, placing more individuals at risk of dying in the facility. Since the lockdown began, Waupun has seen two deaths within its walls. The family of one of the men, Dean Hoffman, is also being represented by Lonnie. Hoffman’s death by an apparent suicide drew increased scrutiny to the prison earlier this year. Both Waupun and the Green Bay Correctional Institution have been placed on “modified movement,” the DOC’s term for a lockdown. The DOC has pointed to under-staffing and behavioral safety issues among incarcerated men as reasons for  the lockdowns.

“What’s happening with the way they’re doing this lockdown, it’s just going to continue to make things worse,” Story told Wisconsin Examiner. “I had a phone call yesterday to Green Bay, and right in the middle of the phone call with my client, a fight broke out. And he indicated to me that, that’s a prime example right there of the anxiety, the stress. They’re turning the place into a madhouse at Waupun, and same thing with Green Bay.”


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Isiah Holmes
Isiah Holmes

Isiah Holmes is a journalist and videographer, and a lifelong resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 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.