MADISON – The top three officials at a prison north of Madison have been put on paid leave two weeks after a pair of inmates escaped and fled to Illinois.
Susan Novak, the warden of Columbia Correctional Institution, and her top two aides were placed on leave on Wednesday, according to Department of Corrections spokeswoman Anna Neal.
Corrections employees are routinely put on paid leave when they are under investigation for violating work rules. Also put on leave were Deputy Warden Lucas Weber and Security Director Brian Gustke.
Lower-ranking employees have also been put on paid leave as the prison investigates the escape, Neal said.
“We cannot discuss any details related to the ongoing investigation at this time,” Neal said by email.
Larry Fuchs, who helps oversee the prison system as the security chief for the Division of Adult Institutions, will serve as Columbia’s interim warden, Neal said. Kevin Garceau is the interim deputy warden.
Inmates Thomas E. Deering and James R. Newman escaped the Portage prison April 16, likely by jumping over two security fences early in the morning. They were apprehended a day later after they visited a homeless shelter in Rockford, Ill.
Deering was convicted of kidnapping, burglary and three counts of second-degree sexual assault in Milwaukee County in 2001, according to online court records. Newman was convicted in Jackson County in 2016 of kidnapping, escape and theft.
Authorities have arrested Holly M. Zimdahl, a food service worker at the prison, on suspicion that she helped the inmates escape.
Neal did not say how many prison employees have been put on leave, but said they include those who work in the prison’s kitchen.
“There are a number of individuals in food service and from other positions at CCI currently on administrative leave as a result of the current and ongoing investigation,” she said.
Waupun Correctional Institution had to assist Columbia with meal service last week because of a staffing shortage. Columbia’s food service operation is now fully functional, she said.
Contact Patrick Marley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @patrickdmarley.
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