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Wisconsin state prison employees complain of harassment, retaliation

The Fox River flows quietly by the Wisconsin state prison in Allouez. Inside the maximum security facility known as the Green Bay Correctional Institution, changes are coming a little less quietly.

A recent investigative report revealed that employees at GBCI have repeatedly complained of harassment and retaliation by supervisors in a workplace described as "negative, unprofessional" and "unbearable."

A Green Bay TV station said it filed open records requests for information on complaints about the prison's upper echelon: the warden, deputy warden and the security director. The station received hundreds of redacted emails and pages of internal reports in which the identities of both the accusers and alleged perpetrators were concealed.

Nevertheless, the communications "paint a picture of toxic working conditions at GBCI," the station reported. Workers were afraid to complain and they feared retaliation when they did voice grievances.

One worker who complained about conditions at the prison found himself reassigned to a new shift and new duties. He was moved to tears by his treatment by prison officials and eventually quit his job.

Two female psychologists wrote to a prison administrator about how they "struggled with the work conditions at this institution." They both quit as well.

Prison employees wrote in their complaints of several co-workers who left their jobs after being belittled and mistreated by supervisors.

An internal report laid out the crux of the complaints about the prison's upper management, saying that the top administrators behave as a "dictatorship." Workers are "angry" over the "lack of respect." And "when women bring forward issues, they're dismissed as 'too emotional.'"

The Wisconsin Department of Corrections said in response to the complaints, it has created an action plan that includes steps to foster a sense of teamwork. Last fall, the warden announced that he was retiring.

A new warden took the reins a few days ago.

Let's hope that employees and journalists remain vigilant and that a hostile work environment is improved.

You can also take steps to improve a hostile workplace and stop unlawful harassment, discrimination and retaliation by contacting the Milwaukee employment law firm of Alan C. Olson & Associates.

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