Our View: Panel will face jail issues directly

3:13 PM, Apr. 9, 2013  |  Comments
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The attack on corrections officers in the Marathon County Jail last month ignited public concern for working conditions in the facility, and it has uncovered serious, even critical issues that need to be addressed. Among these are:

? Persistent crowding.

? Consistently low staffing numbers.

? Problems with the jail's radio communications system.

To be clear, it is not certain that any of these things were the specific cause of the March 27 attack. But together, they contribute to an environment that puts corrections officers at risk. That needs to be fixed.

The good news is that county leaders show every indication that they understand the urgency of this project. The Marathon County Board recently has supported measures needed to improve conditions. And last week the county appointed five local leaders to a citizens panel that will review the jail's policies and procedures and offer recommendations in a report to the Sheriff's Department.

So far, panel members are former Rothschild Police Chief Bill Schremp; Mount View Care Center administrator Lori Koeppel; Intercity State Bank President Randy Balk; LandArt owner Paul Jones; and Daily Herald Media General Manager Michael Beck.

In crisis situations, sometimes officials have a tendency to circle the wagons and resist change. We had concerns that this would be the case when the Sheriff's Department took nearly a week to hold a press conference about the attack.

But the county did not drag its feet in the creation of this panel, and it deserves credit both for moving forward on a plan and for seeking to make the commission inclusive of different types of community stakeholders.

However, we are persuaded by criticisms we heard from readers that the panel's lack of professional expertise in corrections is a problem. The idea was both to avoid a group that would be beholden to the county and to keep the panel from representing the already established ways of doing things. That's understandable, but this panel might err too far on the other side. Schremp brings law enforcement experience and Koeppel brings administrative experience; other members bring other unique perspectives. What is needed is concrete knowledge of corrections.

There are leaders in our own community who are retired or who've left the corrections field who nevertheless retain expertise. Some candidates: Donna Seidel, the former Assembly representative who was a police officer and clerk of court; Mike Williams, the thoughtful and competent retired probation and parole supervisor; Jane Rusch, the Wausau School Board member who is a former corrections officer. There are others who would be equally good, no doubt. The point is that there are resources within the community.

Luckily it is still early in the process, and the panel can add members. We're glad the county is seeking these perspectives. We hope together the community will be able to address problems in the jail.

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