Former Waupun prison director and employees charged in inmate deaths

On August 6, 2023, bright lights shine over Waupun Correctional Institution in Waupun, Wisconsin. The prison’s former director and eight other employees were charged in connection with the deaths of several inmates. (Jamie Kelter Davis for The New York Times)

Inmates had complained about a months-long lockdown that cut them off from family members and timely medical care.

By Mario Koran
The New York Times/Wisconsin Watch

The former warden of a Wisconsin prison and eight other prison employees were charged Wednesday in connection with the deaths of several inmates over the past year, the local sheriff said.

The prison, Waupun Correctional Institution, about 70 miles (110 kilometers) northwest of Milwaukee, was the subject of a 2023 report by The New York Times and Wisconsin Watch that found inmates had been confined to their cells for months and denied access to medical care .

The prison’s former director, Randall Hepp, had quit his job earlier this week. He was charged with misconduct in public office, a misdemeanor. Hepp’s arrest was first reported by The Associated Press. His lawyer was not immediately available for comment.

The remaining prison employees, most of whom worked as correctional officers and registered nurses, were charged with assault on an inmate. Two of the correctional officers and a sergeant were also charged with misconduct.

Randall Hepp, former warden of Waupun Correctional Institution, is shown. (Courtesy of Dodge County, Wisconsin, Sheriff’s Office)

Announcing the arrests at a news conference on Wednesday, Dale Schmidt, the sheriff of Dodge County, Wisconsin, said Hepp and the other employees had failed to adequately care for the inmates in their custody. Schmidt described in detail four recent deaths, including one involving an inmate who had not eaten in days and was “drinking sewage water” and “playing in the toilet.” The medical examiner said the cause of death was malnutrition and probable dehydration and ruled it a homicide.

Schmidt identified a host of problems, including inadequate staffing, within the facility that he said contributed to the deaths.

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