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Sunday Feedback: Don't flinch from hard questions on jail failures

2:03 PM, May 8, 2013  |  Comments
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Each Wednesday afternoon, we post online a draft version of the next Sunday's editorial. We want to know what you think! Leave us your feedback in a comment on this story, on our Facebook page, via Twitter by tweeting to @WDHOpinions or by emailing opinion@wdhprint.com.

We'll incorporate reader feedback into the final version of the editorial, and on Sunday we'll publish selections of the responses on the topic. Please share your thoughts by the end of the day Thursday.

Look to systemic problems with jail

An employee survey given to corrections officers at the Marathon County Jail released in March asked them to rank the quality of the organization in 60 categories. The best score was 100; the worst was 1.

In 46 categories, employees gave the jail a 1 - the lowest possible score, a total lack of confidence in the institution.

And then, on March 27, an attack by an inmate nearly killed a corrections officer.

The county has established a process for reviewing this issue, and to its credit has brought in citizen voices in the formulation of its review panel. That panel has a big responsibility. But it will be important to take a broad view of the conditions that preceded the attack - and not to shy away from uncomfortable conclusions.

? Former Marathon County Sheriff Randy Hoenisch, who retired in March after a Daily Herald Media investigation found he had been a no-show for his job, contributed mightily to a rotten culture that failed to respond to employee concerns, to ensure that corrections officers received adequate training and equipment.

? Former jail administrator Bob Dickman, who resigned amid the investigation that has followed the attack, must be responsible for some of the jail's more egregious administrative failings, like failure to fix faulty communications systems or to provide employees with the training they needed.

But it's easy - in some ways too easy - to point the finger at Hoenisch and Dickman. They are both gone. It seems very likely that the failures here will have systemwide ramifications. Those won't be easy conversations to have, but it will be crucially important for the jail panel to have them.

Editor's note: Daily Herald Media General Manager Michael Beck is a member of the citizens review panel. He was not involved in Editorial Board discussions and will not write or edit editorials on this topic.

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