by Luke Ulatowski
For The Beacon
PLYMOUTH – Inmates at Kettle Moraine Correctional Institution (KMCI) are not just sitting around in cells. Many are receiving high school to college-level education, all under nonstop surveillance and snipers at ready.
At KMCI’s annual Community Relations Board Meeting on Tuesday, May 21, Warden Jennifer McDermott led discussion. As part of the institution’s yearly effort to give the local community a better understanding of occurrences at the medium-security prison, Security Director Tom Pollard talked about his department’s work, while Deputy Warden Michelle Haese highlighted the educational endeavors taking place at KMCI.
“Kettle Moraine is a medium-security institution,” Pollard said. “If you look at it as a small city, the easiest way to do it would probably be like this: The warden is the mayor, the deputy warden would be the deputy mayor, taking care of all the operations of the institution, and I would be the sheriff.”
The security department consists of 221 staff members. Subgroups include a sniper team and a crisis negotiation team. There is also the Security Threat Group, which monitors gang-related activity within the institution. Pollard stated that many people on the outside do not realize the prevalence of gang activity in prisons.
“The hub is in Chicago, but they circle through Milwaukee, through Sheboygan, Manitowoc to Green Bay,” Pollard said. “In a prison, they actually like to stick together and find ways to circumvent or bring in drugs, doing whatever they can to make money. Just because they get locked up doesn’t mean they stop their activities.”
Pollard is confident that his team can catch on to illegal activity. “We have one of the best surveillance systems in Wisconsin,” Pollard said, later attesting that security cameras capture 85% of the institution. He joked that the security department has everything except one of the latest trends in security and law enforcement: “We don’t have drones.”
Pollard dually serves as the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) compliance manager. Pollard stated that PREA covers all sexual contact within the institution. “There is zero tolerance, and that is not just for employees,” he said. “That is also for inmates.” PREA was passed into federal law in 2003, making any sexual contact between a staff member and a prisoner felony sexual assault of varying degree on the part of the staff member.
KMCI has an Inmate Complaint Review System, which allows inmates to report misconduct committed by other inmates or staff for investigation. In the last fiscal year, 1089 complaints were accepted, 125 were affirmed, 621 were dismissed, 343 were rejected and 666 were returned due to improper filing. Of all the year’s complaints, there were 10 alleging sexual misconduct by staff and three alleging sexual misconduct by inmates. These were referred to Pollard for PREA investigation.
Speaking about education, Haese stated that KMCI has 13 Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS) certified teachers helping inmates earn their High School Equivalency Diploma (HSED). The institution also has two Department of Public Instruction-certified teachers for special education.
In Wisconsin, an HSED is different from a GED because earning an HSED requires completing a state-certified program, whereas earning a GED only requires a test. A GED simply shows that a student has the skills and knowledge expected of a high school graduate, whereas an HSED functions as an alternate certificate of graduation.
Academic classes collectively see 340 students every day, with 560 inmates on the waitlist. The total inmate population is 1,178, though the operating capacity is 783. McDermott called overcrowding “the biggest challenge” the institution is currently facing.
With authorization and support from Moraine Park Technical College, five WTCS-certified educators teach college-level vocational classes at KMCI. During the last fiscal year, inmates earned 77 college certificates or technical diplomas in programs such as Cabinet Making, Custodial Skills, Masonry, Mechanical Design and Welding.
“Our welding program is doing incredibly well,” Haese said. 25 inmates have been awarded a college certificate or degree in Welding. KMCI has plans to incorporate a mobile welding lab and four augmented reality welding systems into the program, which will allow additional inmates to enter training.
Education aside, KMCI provides inmates with various rehabilitation and counseling programs. According to McDermott, the Substance Use Disorder Program (SUD) is the largest program at the institution. The core 18-week course is provided for separate groups of 12. All inmates participating in SUD are housed in the same unit.
Clients deemed high risk are assigned to ancillary groups within the program such as Anger Management and Epictetus, the latter of which incorporates the teachings of the ancient Greek philosopher of the same name. A choice quote from Epictetus goes like such: “No man is free who is not a master of himself.”
For religious services, all institutions under the Wisconsin Department of Corrections recognize eight designated Umbrella Religion Groups: Catholic, Eastern Religions, Humanist, Islam, Jewish, Native American and Protestant, all of which KMCI offers chapel services for. “We realize that we cannot provide for every religious practice and belief that exists to mankind,” Haese said. “We do have to bring it down into eight central groups and provide services and study under those umbrellas.”
Located on Forest Drive about 10 minutes from Plymouth, the facility that now serves as KMCI originally opened in 1962 as the Kettle Moraine Boys School. It became KMCI in 1974.