ONEIDA & VILAS COUNTY - The population of people in prison grew steadily over the past five years according to data from the Wisconsin Department of Corrections. The inmate increase has contributed to jail overcrowding problems that local authorities hope to alleviate.
"The correctional system is over populated and they don't have enough bed space," said Oneida County Jail Capt. Mark Neuman.
Without bed space, the state has turned to local jails to house prisoners temporarily; Oneida County's facility is contracted to hold 100 of them. According to Neuman, the contract has been in place for three or four years.
Every few weeks, a OCSO employee makes the more than three-hour drive to the Dodge Correctional Facility in Waupun to "exchange" prisoners. Eight inmates are transferred to Oneida County where they will be housed for up to four months. At the same time, eight inmates who had been held in Oneida County are put back into the state's system to serve the rest of their sentence in prison.
"It's a great program and it's great for the county and it generates a lot of revenue," said Neuman.
The Oneida County Jail makes more than $50 per day for housing each inmate. Through similar contracts in the past, Capt. Tyler Young said those funds helped pay for Oneida County's law enforcement center and the people who work in it.
"Because of the state inmates that we have in the jail we have to have more corrections officers," said Young.
Young said additional funds made from the prisoner exchange are put into the county's general fund..
Recently, Oneida County signed another contract with the state to retain qualifying local inmates with less than one year left on their prison sentences. The "inmate retention program" (IRP) is also designed to keep inmates out of state prisons and combat overcrowding.
Oneida County isn't the only Northwoods community that's a part of the overcrowding solution. Vilas County is contracted to house 25 prisoners and Jail Administrator Bill Weiss says it benefits both the county's general fund and prisoners who go there.
"The inmates that come here are eligible to be in our programs, one has gone through the recovery program, we offer a GED to the program; they're mixed in with our county inmates and it seems to work well," said Weiss.
RIB MOUNTAIN - Despite being called "Safer at Home," Governor Evers' order encourages people to get outside. And with Spring now here, many people have started to get out walking, running, and biking. But people wanting to drive, chip, and putt will have to wait.
Wisconsin is one of only four states to have shut down golf courses.
Rib Mountain Golf Course co-owner Tom Oliva says the greens have been ready for weeks, and points out disc golf courses are open in area parks.
"This would be the perfect opportunity for people to come out and golf," said Oliva. "And like I said, we would adhere to all the guidelines. It would be safe. I think we should be open."
Republican legislators sent a letter to Governor Evers, requesting that golf courses be re-opened. Assemblyman John Spiros (R-Marshfield) represents the Rib Mountain area. He says he's OK with restaurants and bars attached to the golf courses being closed, but people should be able to play golf.
"I think what we're saying with this letter that went out to the Governor was, look, you can continue to have these other items closed, we'll make sure there's social distancing, but allow these individuals to go out, hit the ball, get some exercise," said Spiros.
Governor Evers has not responded to the letter yet.
Oliva guesses he's lost more than $20,000 between his restaurant and golf course, during the Safer at Home Order.
WAUSAU - Some of the biggest tools in the battle against COVID-19 are ventilators. They can help keep people alive. But many of the hardest hit areas are projecting a need for more ventilators than they currently have.
Aspirus CEO Matt Heywood says about four COVID-19 patients are currently on ventilators in the Aspirus system.
He added Aspirus just recently bought more ventilators, but they won't be getting to Aspirus for eight to ten weeks. Some models have a coronavirus surge hitting Wisconsin during the next four weeks.
But Heywood said they are still worth buying, based on some projections he's seen.
"When you look at the surge and everyone says the surge is coming in four weeks - why buy the [ventilators]? But our team says if we have potentially the multiple surges that you think [we might]," said Heywood. "It doesn't hurt to spend that extra money. It's not cheap to get those extra [ventilators]."
Heywood added that about 10 COVID-19 patients at Aspirus are in ICUs, and there are about 15 to 20 COVID patients in the Aspirus system.
MADISON - Thousands of Wisconsin voters waited hours in line to cast ballots and the National Guard staffed overcrowded polling stations on Tuesday, straining the state's ability to hold a presidential primary election under the lash of an escalating pandemic.
At the same time, many voters said they did not receive their requested absentee ballots and, unwilling to violate a stay-at-home order to vote in person, accepted their votes would not be counted.
WAUSAU - Justin Borger voted for the first time Tuesday. He wished it wasn't in the middle of a pandemic.
"I just turned 18 a couple months ago," said Borger. "So, I figured why not?"
He said he was worried for the health of his older relatives.
"For my grandparents and the older people I know, I'm a little bit worried," said Borger. "So, I try to stay away from them and social distance to try and keep them safe."
The hockey-rink-turned-polling place in Marathon Park accommodated Borger. This included routine sanitization, plastic screens, and clean pens. About half of the people inside wore masks.
Chief Inspector Jack Frederick said there were fewer people today than usual.
"We're making people stay six feet apart in the lines, which there haven't been much of today," said Frederick. "[There's been] a lot of absentee ballots, but not a lot of foot traffic. Not as much as normal that's for sure."
Borger successfully voted for the first time. He said he felt safe doing it.
"It was fun," said Borger. "I enjoyed it. I was a little bit confused wandering around in there, but I got the hang of it in the end and I'm glad I came out and voted today."
Results from Tuesday's election will not be available until Monday, April 13.
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