Wisconsin Department of Corrections Secretary Jon Litscher will retire two years after being brought back to the agency by Gov. Scott Walker to address allegations of abuse at the state's youth prison.
Litscher, 73, has led the agency since February 2016. He served previously as DOC secretary from 1999-2003 under Republican Govs. Tommy Thompson and Scott McCallum, and had most recently served as interim superintendent of the Cambria-Friesland school district.
Walker announced on Wednesday that he has appointed Deputy Secretary Cathy Jess to lead the agency. Jess will start as DOC Secretary on June 11.
Jess had served as administrator of the agency's Division of Adult Institutions from 2011 until her appointment as deputy secretary in February 2016. She started her career with DOC as a correctional officer 30 years ago, and served as warden at Dodge Correctional Institution and the Wisconsin Women’s Correctional System.
"Cathy Jess is an experienced leader with a strong background, and we welcome her to this new role," Walker said in a statement. "I also give my deep appreciation and thanks to Jon Litscher for his outstanding work as DOC secretary and for his many years of dedicated service as a state official and educator. Jon is a consequential leader who brought about positive change and enacted numerous reforms that improved the department."
When Litscher was appointed in 2016, he pledged to restore the public's trust in the agency following ongoing allegations of abuse at the Lincoln Hills juvenile corrections facility and issues with staffing shortages and forced overtime at facilities throughout the state.
A recent Milwaukee Journal Sentinel report found that the state paid $42 million in overtime for prison workers last year, due in large part to staff shortages and in spite of recent pay raises and efforts to recruit and retain employees. DOC officials have said the state's low unemployment rate makes it difficult, despite those efforts, to hire prison workers.
Walker in March signed a law that will significantly overhaul the state's juvenile corrections system, closing Lincoln Hills by 2021 and sending most youth offenders to facilities overseen by counties throughout the state. The plan passed both houses of the Legislature with unanimous support.
"I’m incredibly proud of what we have been able to accomplish during this time, including the transformation of juvenile corrections in Wisconsin, significant investments in reentry, mental health services, education and vocational training, and reforms which have benefited our staff," Litscher said in a statement.