By: Barbara Hart, Principal in G&E’s Civil Rights Practice

Deaths of two inmates at a Wisconsin Prison leads to charges filed against the warden and either other staff members. The charges include felony misconduct in connection with the death of a mentally ill inmate who died due to malnutrition and dehydration.

Two recent inmate deaths at Waupun Correctional Institution in Wisconsin hold nine former prison staff members—including the prison warden—accountable on felony charges following an investigation into their deaths. In a one-year period, four inmates have now died at the maximum-security prison.

One of the deceased inmates, who was mentally troubled, passed away in February 2024 due to dehydration and malnutrition, after prison staff neglected to provide him with meals. Another inmate died from a stroke in October 2023 at age 24, after staff allegedly ignored signs of distress. Staff also purportedly failed to check on him, as required.  By the time staff eventually did check on his cell, he may have been been dead for at least 12 hours, according to a criminal complaint.

The other two inmate deaths were due to suicide in solitary confinement (where the inmate’s daughter alleges that prison staff failed to provide her father with adequate mental health care and medications), and an overdose of acetyl fentanyl, a potent opioid painkiller.

In what Dodge County Sherriff Dale Schmidt calls a “litany of failure[s]” at Waupun Correctional Institution, felony charges of misconduct in public office and abuse of residents of penal facilities were filed relating to the two deaths.  “We are operating the oldest prison in Wisconsin in a dangerous manner,” said Schmidt of the inept care that the Waupun inmates received. “There needs to be responsibility from the top down,” as well as better staffing, training and accountability across the prison system.

Sherriff Schmidt also said Waupun staff, in various cases, failed to properly check on its prisoners; nor did they provide necessary medication, food and water. Many rounds by staff were not completed, or performed ineffectively, the sheriff said. Allegedly, some records were falsified.

The Department of Corrections and federal authorities are undertaking their own investigations into the terrible conditions at Waupun. In connection with the investigations, the prison staffers charged with the felony crimes are on administrative leave. The Warden had announced his resignation amid news of the inmate deaths, a state-imposed lockdown of Waupun (and other state prisons) due to a shortage of guards, and ongoing investigations related to smuggling prohibited items into the prison.

Prisoner Mistreatment, Rights, and Privileges

Prison inmates across the country have faced civil rights violations and mistreatment. Correctional officers have, in many cases, allegedly used excessive force against inmates, deny medical care, or treat inmates harshly due to their race, religion, national origin, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability.  Inmates have constitutional rights that offer protection from violations of their rights. When correctional facilities violate these rights—such the allegations at the Waupun Correctional Institution—inmates or their family members may have options to hold the offending parties accountable for their actions.

Prisoner rights and privileges depend on the situation—while these rights may differ from those of the general population, correctional officers and facilities must still follow policies and procedures to respect constitutional rights. Inmates may also exercise rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The U.S. Supreme Court and legislation have further solidified certain protections. Rights in prison include:

  • Access to humane conditions
  • Access to adequate medical care
  • The right to complain about prison or jail conditions
  • Freedom from discrimination
  • Freedom from cruel and unusual punishment
  • Eighth Amendment Rights in Prison (which provides protection from cruel and unusual punishment)
Consider speaking with a lawyer to help you determine if a correctional facility violated your rights or those of a family member.

How Our Civil Rights Lawyers Help Families of Deceased or Injured Inmates

Depending on the circumstances, prisoners or their family members may be able to file lawsuits for rights violations. If you or a loved one suffered harm due to violations of your rights, reach out to a Grant & Eisenhofer civil rights lawyer to determine whether you can file a lawsuit. Grant & Eisenhofer’s civil rights attorneys can help investigate your claim and may be able to help you seek compensation for your damages. Call (855) 244-2031 or use our online form to schedule a free consultation.