Dane County, several others burdened by statewide county jail officer shortage  

According to the Capital Times, the number of county jail officers in Wisconsin has fallen to its lowest point since the state Department of Justice began keeping track in 2008, hitting just 3,471 at the end of June. The total number peaked in 2009 at 4,493 but has dropped steadily since.

The Marathon County Jail has a 279-inmate capacity but is so short on correctional officers that it has had to pay other jails to house almost half of its inmates. As of July 25, 131 inmates remain in its facility, while 117 are housed elsewhere. Brown County has two jails and is around 25 jail officers short of a budgeted 148-member staff.

The Dane County Sheriff’s Office requires most new deputies to work first as jail officers before moving to other fields like patrol, and the position’s hourly wage starts at nearly $33, yet the office remains about 14% short of its 180 deputies assigned to the jail in Madison. Moving inmates to other jails has cost upwards of $500,000 in the first half of 2023.

Despite counties’ recruiting efforts, hiring and retention remains difficult. Interest in law enforcement careers has waned in recent years, correctional officer jobs are among the lowest compensated positions in the field, and the job market is already tight.

County jails are also competing for workers with the state prison system — currently having its own shortage. According to the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, state correctional officer positions have a vacancy rate of 34%.

The risk of burnout is increasing among understaffed workforces, and the current situation could have a public impact as well, increasing the risk of lowered hiring standards for jail officer positions. More than 30 county jail officers currently employed in Wisconsin were fired or forced out from previous law enforcement jobs.