TARGET 2 INVESTIGATES: Employee harassment at Green Bay prison

ALLOUEZ, Wis. (WBAY) - Sweeping changes are underway at the Green Bay Correctional Institution amid complaints of an atmosphere where employees feared harassment, retaliation and intimidation.

Target 2 Investigates filed several open records requests to get the well-documented complaints, spelled out in hundreds of emails and reports.

Tips to Target 2 told us to start digging into the driving force behind the complaints: prison leadership.

The hundreds of pages we received paint a picture of toxic working conditions at GBCI, riddled with fears of retaliation if employees voiced opinions or filed complaints.

It reached all the way to the former Department of Corrections secretary who held secret meetings with staff to hear their concerns and gauge problems.

GBCI employees described the climate as "negative, unprofessional and an unbearable environment."

Staff say they were disrespected, with an "abuse of power" by the prison's top administrators.

Target 2 requested harassment complaints involving Warden Scott Eckstein, Deputy Warden Steve Schueler and Security Director John Kind for the last three years.

The DOC redacted names of both those writing complaints and who they targeted, but the documents reveal multiple claims of harassment, vindictive behavior and a feeling of distrust in the prison's leadership.

In one email to former Secretary Jon Litscher in 2017, an employee wrote how a coworker with years of service clashed with administrators and was moved to a new shift and new position, bringing him to tears, writing "they had broken him."

The employee quit.

More examples portray intimidation.

Another supervisor with 10 years of experience was reassigned to a new shift after bringing up issues to officials in Madison, writing he had "only seen this type of movement done to retaliate or silent bully an employee."

More incidents cite people who worked in the prison for years leaving the jobs, writing in another email, "the management here is constantly belittling him and he won't tolerate the mistreatment..."

Two psychologists, both women, wrote to the secretary, saying they "struggled with the work conditions at this institution" and eventually left for new jobs.

Yet more emails detail a confrontation last year involving top administrators, where an employee eventually began crying uncontrollably in a meeting, prompting an investigation by DOC officials in Madison.

The whistle blower told investigators that in 28 years "I've never seen anybody beat down like her."

Target 2 also found a formal discrimination complaint filed by a GBCI employee alleging harassment where one of the administrators "placed hands on (the employee), rubbing shoulders.. saying (they) looked tense and should relax."

The complaint lists a response from then-Secretary Litscher, saying "the allegations were reviewed and addressed appropriately..."

But the employee filing the complaint says he or she was never interviewed about the incident.

All this comes as Litscher began holding secret, off-site meetings with concerned employees in late 2017.

It led to an institutional review where top DOC officials pulled 29 employees from various ranks -- all the way up to the warden -- in for individual interviews.

In that institution assessment final report, many employees didn't mince words, telling investigators, "We have a dictatorship. People are angry, (and there's) lack of respect. When women bring forward issues, they're dismissed as 'too emotional.'"

The report did also include positive comments, like employees take pride in working there, leadership cares about doing a good job, and things improved with Warden Eckstein.

While investigators concluded staff genuinely care about their peers and described a good team environment, they still labeled the overall climate as "problematic."

One employee told investigators "It's not a pretty picture, but I can't tell anyone; who would listen?"

In a statement to Target 2, a DOC spokesperson says the agency did listen, creating a detailed action plan. That included encouraging more communication, teamwork and being open to opposing ideas, all aimed specifically at Warden Eckstein.

The DOC says the changes were implemented over several months in 2018.

In September, Eckstein announced his decision to retire.

In a statement to Target 2, a DOC spokesperson tells us, "We have high standards for our leaders and expect them to set a positive example... (and) expect (them) to talk with staff and hear their concerns."

"...We believe the environment at GBCI has significantly improved since this plan went into effect."

The spokesperson added the DOC will continue to closely monitor the climate at the prison with an interim warden now in charge.

We attempted to reach all three men at the heart of this. The DOC told us the deputy warden and security director didn't want to comment.

As for Warden Eckstein, because he's no longer a DOC employee, policy doesn't allow them to contact him, and we couldn't reach him.

What happens next at the prison remains to be seen after a new administration and secretary take over January 7.