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Committee hears about jail defects

ELLSWORTH -- Bradley Hompe didn't sugar-coat the problems of the Pierce County Jail.

Of course, because his job is a jail inspector for the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, that's not in his nature.

So, when asked last Thursday by the Pierce County Jail Ad Hoc Committee, how bad is it, he didn't hold back.

Hompe told the committee, out of the 17 jails he inspects (his area goes from Superior to La Crosse and east to Clark County) Pierce is at or near the bottom.

"You have to do something. The county has to make a decision. There have been years and years of talking," he said.

Hompe said that while the state has the power to shut the jail if the county continues to drag its feet, it won't due to politics.

His biggest concerns were:

  • Lack of space to deal with "high-risk" (i.e. suicide) inmates. Hompe explained jails pose one of the highest liabilities risk in a county building and said the "courts expect to us have a very high standard."
  • Lack of classification space for inmates. Mixing those of minimum risk versus high risk is another liability concern. "Courts have said lack of resources or lack of funding are not issues," he continued.
  • The current design of the jail and its effects on staffing: The dispatch being in the jail and no office for supervisors within the jail. Pierce County's current system of three people handling jail/dispatch duties for each shift is not enough, he said.

He added "significant space is needed inside the jail for health care," which Pierce doesn't have.

The concerns have only gotten worse over time, which led Hompe to say: "If you have existing problems and don't do anything about them, be prepared to write a check."

He continued: "You are going to decide what you need versus what you want."

He was then asked what if the jail becomes a holding facility. Hompe replied the building wouldn't meet state standards.


With that in mind, Sheriff Nancy Hove presented the committee with a recent report done by KKE that would include remodeling the current jail to the pod style jail to improve supervision and security.

It would also add a new intake and release addition at the north side, and the dispatch in their own building on the south, and a renovation of the existing Register of Probate office, as that would become a court holding area so inmates wouldn't have to be transferred throughout the courthouse.

"It would give us our health space, but no classroom," she said.

The total cost for that project came under $10 million. Among the faults would be it would reduce the number of prisoners Pierce could hold by eight; therefore, the housing inmates cost would increase. The cost to relocate probate wasn't included in that estimate, the jail would be disrupted and may not be in use during construction, and it wasn't reviewed by the state. Hompe, who read the report for the first time, said it wouldn't pass muster with the state in a lot of areas.


Hove spoke after Hompe. She was asked, how about merging our dispatch with St. Croix County to save costs.

Hove summarized the move would be expensive. First, the two counties' forms of communications are not compatible, so there's an additional cost to merge. Then, it's a challenge just in Ellsworth to get and receive calls in the eastern and southern parts of the county, it could be even worse if it's up in Hudson. Finally, she said, who would handle Pierce's day-to-day phone calls? She said St. Croix County would give them a price, but it will take months.

Hove spent the rest of her interview answering the questions the committee had based off the observations Police Chiefs Mike Bondarenko (Prescott), Greg Place (Ellsworth) and Roger Leque (River Falls) gave at the March 7 committee meeting.

At the top of their list was lack of overall security in the courthouse. Hove said a courthouse security officer, whose main role will be transferring prisoners for appearances, has been named, but won't start until their patrol spot will be filled. She believes that will rectify many issues.

She also expressed concern anyone could take the elevator to the third floor and walk past Court Commissioner Jorv Gavic's office and there would be no protection. She also welcomed the chance to have civilian dispatchers, as she says those wanting to do both jail and dispatch are few and far between.

She also praised the county's computer system.

"I can now see where my patrol cars are and be able to read all the complaints," she said. "We have almost become paperless on the patrol side."

She also noted staffing concerns, saying staffing has hardly changed in the jail/dispatch since the 1990s and a patrolman once worked 24 straight days to cover shifts.

The committee also heard on March 7 from retired Chief Deputy Neil Gulbranson and current Chief Deputy Jason Matthys on past, present and future issues with the jail on a day-to-day basis.

Jason Schulte

Jason Schulte is a reporter for the New Richmond News since February 2015. Prior to that he spent eight years at the Pierce County Herald in Ellsworth. His duties with the News will include covering news out of Hammond and Roberts along with action from St. Croix County court system. He lives in Roberts. 

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