WAUSAU (AP) - The central Wisconsin jail where two corrections officers were attacked last month performs only limited searches of inmates returning to jail from work-release programs, despite a 2011 recommendation to increase searches, according to a published report.
About 80 of the Marathon County Jail's 279 inmates are in the facility's work-release eligible section, the Daily Herald Media reported. When those inmates return to jail each day, they pass through a metal detector and are patted down for weapons. However, jail officials say they don't have enough staff to do strip searches, which means inmates could potentially sneak in weapons or other contraband.
Wisconsin's Huber Law, the nation's oldest work-release program for jail inmates, allows inmates to leave for up to 12 hours a day, six days a week, the Marathon County sheriff's department said. About 70 percent of those who leave are working, and the rest leave to search for jobs, perform community service, attend school or provide child care, former jail Administrator Bob Dickman said.
Dickman, who resigned last week in the wake of the March 27 attack on the corrections officers, said there are only limited searches because of a lack of manpower.
"We just don't have the staff," he said. "We did request an additional officer, just for searches, but right now, we don't do searches nearly enough."
But Marathon County Administrator Brad Karger said he reviewed seven years' worth of new-position requests and couldn't find any such request.
Kristi Dietz, the director of detention facilities at the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, said strip searches are authorized for inmates who were convicted of felonies. She said the DOC considers the searches a "best practice" to maintain safety and security at county jails.
"You have inmates who are in and out of jail, and you don't always know where they've been," Dietz said.
It's not immediately clear whether enhanced searches could have averted the beatings, which left Julie Christensen, 36, in intensive care. A second officer was treated and released.
Still, an independent review of jail policies performed in June 2011 at the request of the county's insurance company identified the jail's vague policy on searches as an area of concern. Individual sheriffs can set policies for each jail, and the latest Huber policy for the Marathon County Jail, established in 1994, doesn't address the issue of searches.
The 2011 report, obtained by Daily Herald Media through an open records request, advised jail officials to search incoming Huber inmates and update the jail's policy on searches.
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