Dense Fog Advisory issued January 20 at 2:25PM CST expiring January 21 at 12:00PM CST in effect for: Columbia, Dane, Dodge, Fond du Lac, Green, Green Lake, Iowa, Jefferson, Kenosha, Lafayette, Marquette, Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Racine, Rock, Sauk, Sheboygan, Walworth, Washington, Waukesha
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Flood Watch issued January 19 at 8:25PM CST expiring January 26 at 6:00AM CST in effect for: Kenosha
There have been four deaths at the Milwaukee County Jail in six months. One of those was a newborn baby delivered by an inmate.
Now a Wisconsin lawmaker is asking the feds to get involved.
Congresswoman Gwen Moore recently sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice. In it she calls the jail "an unsafe environment" for inmates. The congresswoman said she wants answers for the family members of those who died.
"I became increasingly concerned that there was no one minding the store so to speak," she said.
So Representative Gwen Moore reached out to the justice department questioning Sheriff David Clarke's oversight. In the letter she asks for an independent investigation of the jail.
"It wasn't just that people died in the prison, but the egregious nature of these deaths," Rep. Moore said.
Moore is concerned the county "..is failing its constitutional obligations.." to inmates.
The letter mentions Terrill Thomas, the inmate found unresponsive in his cell back in April. The cause of death was dehydration. According to the medical examiner's report, the water in Thomas' cell was turned off because of what was deemed "destructive behavior."
Pete Koneazny is Litigation Director for the Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee. He pointed out "the custody staff are the first responders. They have to identify if someone's in distress."
Koneazny said Thomas was kept in an isolated, disciplinary area of the jail. Something he questions since the inmate had symptoms of mental illness.
"We're very concerned with those aspects of the program, the segregation and discipline use," Koneazny said.
In October, a court ordered audit found a shortage of medical staff at the House of Corrections. Out of 128 positions, 47 are vacant. Some of those in the mental health program which the report calls challenged.
It also mentions a shortage of officers at the jail. In the report, a national correctional medical expert wrote, "it leaves open the question whether more careful monitoring of him (inmate Thomas) might have altered the outcome."
Over the last year, inmates have been on early lockdown, meaning the jail is not staffed from 6 .p.m until the morning. Officers just do checks every 30 minutes.
"That increases the opportunity of if somebody's in distress that nobody's going to be there to hear them," Koneazny said.
According to the report, leadership at the jail claims early lockdown will end after December. Koneazny is hoping the October report leads to better communication between medical and custody staff.
But Congresswoman Moore feels it's time for an independent review by the DOJ.
"The family is asking a very unsettling question, 'why is my loved one dead?' People need answers, and I need an answer," she said.
The sheriff will not comment specifically on the inmate deaths, but he did provide a statement about the
letter to the DOJ:
"Gwen Moore should focus on reducing the $21 trillion debt the country is facing, replacing Obamacare, reducing taxes, closing the border and helping President Trump jumpstart the economy to provide jobs."
Moore has not yet received a response from the DOJ.
As far as the vacancies go, Koneazny said the facilities are not short staffed. People are in the positions but they are either working overtime or have been pulled from other areas which leads to concerns with experience and training levels.
According to the October report, by January 1 there will be at least 70 additional correctional officer staff.