News 8 Investigates: Jail cells for rent

“I had a few allegations put out on me,” said Marjuan Haynes, a Wisconsin state prison inmate.

Haynes is serving part of his sentence in the Vernon County Jail.

“What happened is it was a charge — intimidation of a witness,” Haynes said.

He was sentenced to serve time in prison in the Dodge Maximum Security Institution in Waupun, Wisconsin, but the state’s facilities are overcrowded.

“It was horrible,” Haynes said.

According to the Department of Corrections’ weekly population reports, the prison system is currently about 43-percent over capacity. Unused space at the Vernon County Jail is now being contracted out to help with the overcrowding situation.

“Right now, I signed a contract with the Department of Corrections for up to 50 inmates from the state,” said Sheriff John Spears, of the Vernon County Sheriff’s Department.

In April, 25 inmates were transferred to the Vernon County Jail.

“People are coming in here who are in here for murder, attempted murder, armed burglars, armed robbery,” said Don Krzewinski, Sheriff’s Department officer.

This new contract bed arrangement caused some uneasiness at first.

“So when we’re getting all those from the prison system you know you’re dealing with much more serious offenders,” Krzewinski said.

But the guards are trained and prepared for the prisoners who are now being housed outside of a state facility.

“It takes some time to get used to that, and I’d say about two to three weeks there’s kind of a tense feeling,” Krzewinski said. “And I’d say that now, after they’ve been here about two months, they have more of a comfortability where you’re almost dealing with them on the county level again like a county inmate.”

The sheriff says that is an important point.

“Every single prison inmate in the state of Wisconsin that is serving time in a state prison, whether it’s drug related, or a homicide, or a serial killer whatever it is, they started in a county jail,” Spears said.

With available space in Vernon County’s 128-bed facility, the sheriff felt his staff could handle the added inmates because it has done it before.

“At one point, we were doing contract beds with Monroe County,” Spears said. “Monroe County needed space. We had contract for several years with Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, and then when their new jail was built all of the inmates went back to Monroe County.”

This allowed the county to start taking inmates from the state prison system, which also comes with a paycheck.

“Right now, the state is paying $51.46 per day per inmate,” Spears said. “So, that’s a good source of revenue for us. That generates, just on state inmates alone, we’re projecting to be somewhere around the $350(,000) to $400,000 mark for state inmates.”

After the added expense of things like increased food, clothing and medications, any potential profit will help operate the rest of the county.

“Generally, what it does is it goes into the general fund,” Spears said.

The sheriff says the county has the facility, the space and the staff to do the job.

“I think with the state trend and the current trend, we’re going to be able to contract with state inmates for as long as we want to do it,” Spears said. “It will be a steady form of revenue that not only the Sheriff’s Office but Vernon County as a whole can rely on for future budgets.”

And he’s proud to say they’ve done the job well so far.

“The inmates seem content and happy,” Spears said. “They are respectful to the staff here that’s because the staff in Vernon County is respectful to the inmates.”

“People care, people honestly care here,” Haynes said, “and that’s what we get. And that’s why I’m here right now with you, because I’m thankful to say this about Vernon County Jail. I’m very comfortable here.”

The contract bed agreement between Vernon County and the Department of Corrections is for one year.

However, the contract is renewed every 30 days. Both the county and the state can back out of the contract with 30 days notice.