Download PDF version.

On the campaign trail, Governor-elect Tony Evers said he would reduce prison population by 50% and close the Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility. His opponent ran on trying to portray those goals as foolish and unsafe, then lost. The people of Wisconsin have spoken in favor of direly needed reform of the Department of Corrections. We, the undersigned organizations, expect the incoming administration to take immediate action to this end. These actions can be taken regardless of legislative cooperation or approval. Law changes like marijuana legalization are valuable, but the following actions can, and must be taken by executive action.

The DOC is the single largest line item in our state budget, and deserves significant attention and a bold vision for reform. It also has an immeasurable human cost that has gone unrecognized for far too long. We must:

1. Reform the Parole Commission

  • Reevaluate the parole applications for all people who are currently eligible, on the basis of the original sentencing judges’ intent under pre-Truth in Sentencing law.
  • Appoint new and additional people to fill the four vacancies on the commission.
  • Choose reform-oriented commission chair and members with a commitment to release parolees and reduce the needless and expensive incarceration of parole-ready people. The parole commission currently favors release for less than 5% of cases before it. Baron Walker’s case, highlighted in the 53206 documentary was but one of hundreds of cases of clearly parole eligible people unjustly spending years behind bars at great taxpayer expense.
  • Restructure the Parole Commission to eliminate their financial incentive to deny parole. The Truth in Sentencing law eliminated parole, leaving the Parole Commission to review only “old law” sentences, those from before 1998. This creates a situation where by releasing parole-eligible people in a reasonable fashion, the commission would make itself obsolete. This incentive to maintain their role is potentially linked to the extraordinarily low rate of release. Commission members should instead be incentivized to release people and assist with phasing out the obsolete commission so that all incarcerated people in Wisconsin are held under the same sentencing system.
  • Request additional funding from the legislature to undo the cuts Walker made to the Parole Commission during the last budget cycle.
  • Permit parolees to have counsel appear at parole interviews.
  • Modify the criteria for release on parole to require consideration of maturation and rehabilitation, especially for people convicted of crimes committed while they were minors.

2. Scale back revocations and other invasive mass supervision policies

  • Stop revoking people for rules-only violations. Implement instead stepped sanctions or objective parole.
  • Recognize vested street time. The time that someone has spent being supervised in the community should be subtracted from the overall amount of time available for reconfinement. Do not saddle people with perpetually expanding community supervision sentences.
  • Stop detaining people while the DOC investigates them for allegations of violations of rules of supervision. De-incentivize waiving a revocation hearing. Revocation hearings usually do not occur for about 60 days, so many people on probation will waive their right to a hearing in order to expedite their release. Expediting hearings and not confining people during the wait will reduce the coercive pressure on people to waive their rights.
  • Use out-of-custody revocation investigations, these are permitted by law, but almost never happen.
  • Practice early-release for eligible people on supervision. Community supervision officers can terminate supervision early for those who have adjusted and integrated successfully into the community, they simply don’t.
  • Offer mental health screenings as part of the revocation process.
  • Create a differential standard of decision-making for revocation hearings with a higher burden of proof.
  • Stop revoking individuals because of nonpayment of supervisory fees.
  • Provide information about expungement to people on community supervision. Removing conviction history from a person’s public record via judicial clemency greatly assists people with finding employment, housing, and otherwise complying with the difficult rules of supervision.
  • Direct the DOA Secretary to change the rules of administrative law to make the system easier for people in it to understand and to prevent administrative law judges from arbitrarily revoking, detaining, or forcing someone into incarceration-located treatment programs.
  • Direct the DOC Secretary and DCC Administrator to identify and pursue any additional opportunities to change parole, probation and extended supervision policies to ensure more people are successfully completing supervision without recidivating.
  • Restructure community supervision pay and process to incentivize helping people successfully complete their supervision period. Currently, community supervision officers have a vested self-interest in revoking people to maintain caseloads, job security and pay.
  • Close the Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility. MSDF mostly incarcerates people confined due to the revocations system. Once the above-described policy changes (such as eliminating crimeless revocations and investigative holds) are implemented, MSDF will be mostly empty. The few who remain can be transferred to other facilities and managed in a much more humane way. MSDF is an exceptionally poorly designed and inhumane prison environment. Without sunlight or fresh air, with three people confined to cells designed for one, 20-23 hour lockdowns, severe overcrowding, extreme heat, and exposure to communicable diseases, the facility is a literal dungeon. At least seventeen people have died in the 17 years of the building existing. Visit CLOSEmsdf.org for more.

3. Pardon and release eligible people

  • Reinstate the Pardon Advisory Board. Governor Walker dismantled the board and stopped accepting applications in January of 2016. It must be restored and begin the work of seriously evaluating applications.
  • Review and expand the compassionate release process. People who are terminally ill or physically and mentally incapable of doing harm to themselves or others should be immediately released and connected with appropriate healthcare or end of life services.
  • Applicants who’ve been incarcerated due to mental health crisis should be evaluated and pardoned, and if appropriate, they should be transferred to mental health treatment facilities operated by the Department of Health and Human Services.
  • Applicants who have been criminalized for recreational drug use or crimes without victims should be fast-tracked and released with access to drug and alcohol or other treatment if deemed necessary. All other applicants should be seriously considered and evaluated, those who are unlikely to harm people, who have demonstrated dramatic change and positive growth worthy of recognition and another chance in society should be pardoned regardless of the nature of their original offense.

4. Improve conditions of confinement, treatment, respect and cultural competency in the DOC

  • Increase efforts to prevent incarceration and provide alternatives to incarceration.
  • End solitary confinement. Solitary confinement for more than 15 days for adults is considered torture by the United Nations and a violation of the Convention Against Torture, to which the United States is a signatory.
  • Children should never be held in solitary confinement or subjected to OC spray.
  • The DOC has created multiple official designations and labels for solitary confinement: administrative control, segregation, observation, lock-down status. All situations where someone is locked in a room for 23 or more hours per day for more than 15 days is torture and must cease.
  • The DOC’s Mental Health, suicide watch and observation facilities are also solitary confinement conditions, which further decay the well-being of people already suffering mental health crises.
  • Provide mental health assessments and treatment. Through solitary confinement, inhumane conditions, harassment by staff and other deprivations, the DOC is causing mental health problems for their captives. People with PTSD and other mental health challenges should get treatment by the Department of Health and Human Services.
  • Transfer people with mental health struggles into treatment facilities. Mental health and mindfulness based alternatives to solitary confinement have been modelled in other states, such as Colorado, and even implemented at Taycheedah Correctional Facility (TCI) in Fond du Lac. Ideally these would be administered by Department of Health and Human services staff in non-prison facilities.
  • Transfer incarcerated people requesting mental health treatment to Wisconsin Resource Center (WRC) or another facility capable of providing treatment whenever possible. Stop the construction and pursuit of “observation” blocks in maximum security prisons that put people in solitary confinement. Solitary confinement accelerates mental health deterioration. Stop investing in more solitary confinement, instead direct funds into actual treatment.
  • Institute a policy of evacuation in case of natural disasters. Severe flooding is possible in many areas where prisons are located, climate change makes such events increasingly likely. Ensure that facilities whose doors operate electronically can be safely evacuated in the event of flooding and electrical failure.
  • Increase the training requirements and code of conduct standards for correctional officers and community supervision officials. Reducing the prison population will allow a reduced number of correctional staff who can be held to higher standards.
  • Comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Currently people with disabilities are often neglected or mistreated in the DOC. For example, deaf people complain of missing meals or getting write-ups because they can’t hear bells, blind people are abused and taken advantage of. People should not have to mount lawsuits to get DOC compliance with the ADA.
  • Provide programming for limited-English proficient incarcerated people equivalent to the programming provided for English-speaking people.
  • Train guards to respect those who they hold captive, especially people of different demographics or backgrounds. Create mandatory LGBTQ, racial sensitivity, and multicultural training for all DOC, DAI, and DOA employees.
  • Create policies that give queer, trans and gender-non-conforming people agency and access to gender-affirming housing, clothing and other personal items.
  • Treat people’s family members and other visitors to your prisons with respect. Start visiting periods on time, do not make visitors wait outside, especially in harsh weather, make in-person rather than video visitation more available, allow more phone access, and at-home video visitation. Allow supporters to mail embossed envelopes directly to their incarcerated loved ones, rather than paying increased costs to a third party vendor. Direct visitation staff to conduct themselves respectfully. Maintained connection with family is the strongest counter to recidivism, it should be facilitated by DOC staff, not discouraged or deterred.
  • Stop taking incarcerated peoples’ money. Use greater restraint than Governor Walker when administering Act 355 (regarding restitution to victims of a crime). Avoid adding fees and aggressive withholdings from peoples’ state pay, earnings, or support funds from family and friends. This money is often necessary for survival in prison.
  • Increase commissary access and reduce prices. End the monopolies on commissary goods, phone access, and other services to bring in competitive pricing. Provide basic necessities like food and hygiene products for free.
  • Ban the shackling of pregnant women while they are in labor.
  • Improve food service, medical care, work conditions and living conditions across the board. Make internal policies available to incarcerated people and direct staff to follow them consistently.
  • Improve the Inmate Complaint Investigator (ICI) and Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) systems. Currently investigations are done in-house and staff members are expected to judge their co-workers, which is ineffective. Re-instate independent oversight that was lost when Governor Thompson eliminated the ombudsman. There should be an investigator who is independent of the DOC that incarcerated people or their loved ones can complain to and get satisfactory redress.
  • Request the Attorney General review all current state DOJ policies relating to cooperation with ICE to remove any policies of cooperation with the federal deportation machine. This would include policies of the State Highway patrol, as well as policies of DOC, DOJ and other state law enforcement bodies.

5. Improve re-entry services and opportunities

  • Expand the Earned Release Program. Moving more people out of prison more quickly by getting them important treatment recommended by the sentencing judge saves taxpayers money. There are only 750 beds and almost 5,000 people on the waiting list. Individuals are held in prison without access to treatment, unfairly extending their time of incarceration.
  • Stop releasing people from solitary directly to the streets. Begin processes of reintegration to society before release, including medical and mental health treatment if needed.
  • Amplify notification of voting rights restoration when people complete their sentences. Currently, as people leave DOC supervision, they may not realize their voting rights are restored. Agents could incorporate congratulating individuals on their ability to vote as part of their final meeting, or it could receive more prominent placement (like a separate sheet of paper) in the paperwork they receive upon completion of their sentence.
  • Reduce youth reincarceration by offering better academic education opportunities and support in juvenile facilities. Include funding for this in budget proposals.
  • Promote and fund more Treatment Alternative and Diversion (TAD) programming. This helps keep people out of prison or aids them in returning to the community. Push the legislature to increase funding for these programs, speak to how much they earnestly work to reduce recidivism and overcrowding. TAD is more cost effective and safer for communities while keeping families together and those returning to society. Currently 80% of the incarcerated population in Wisconsin return to the community in 5 years. This also boosts local economic alternatives.
  • Protect people from stigma. Change the administrative rules to reduce public access to conviction and arrest histories. Wisconsin’s Circuit Court Access program (CCAP) shows even dismissed cases online publicly. It should be within the DOA’s power to change the policy on this. Many people impacted by the criminal legal system took deals, pleading guilty to offenses they did not commit, simply to keep a job, their family together, or a roof over their and their loved ones’ heads.
  • Ban the Box on Wisconsin state employee applications, considering qualifications before asking about criminal background. Make government agencies an example of this policy and a place of opportunity for formerly incarcerated people.

6. Increase transparency and accountability for the DOC

  • Review risk assessment tools used by the courts, district attorneys, jails, and DOC statewide. Remove racial data used in algorithms and incorporate other factors, such as needs assessments. Risk assessment tools often maintain and reinforce racial bias and disparity.
  • Publicly release quarterly reports that contain the recommendations of the Committee on Youth and Inmate Deaths (COYID) and other reviews of deaths in the DOC. Currently the COIYD and DOC avoid open records and meeting requirements by inappropriately using HIPAA to restrict public access to this information. The incident of preventable death in the DOC seems incredibly high and either the COYID’s recommendations have been inadequate, or poorly implemented to prevent these deaths. The COIYD meets quarterly and could release non-medical information in a report during the public portion of its meetings. The public has a legitimate interest in knowing why people are dying in DOC facilities, and what can be done to save the lives of Wisconsin’s incarcerated people.
  • Strengthen the jail inspection process. A huge proportion of the people incarcerated are in county jails and conditions there are often even worse than in the prisons and there is no good mechanism for accountability and enforcement of the jail regulations.
  • Require counties to provide jail data to the state about who is in the jail and why. Are people there because they cannot afford cash bail?
  • Create a robust early warning system for corrections, probation and parole officers.
  • Include public access to personnel and disciplinary data of corrections, probation and parole officers.
  • Release data for unfilled medical requests in prisons and jails and why they are not being helped.
  • Reform the Committee on Inmate and Youth Deaths (COIYD). Include at least one formerly incarcerated person on the committee. Give it independent oversight capabilities.
  • Create a use of force committee similar to the COIYD that reviews DOC use of force incidents. Redact protected health information and publicly release the committee’s recommendations.

7. Pursue reforms aggressively

  • Enact these policies via executive order and administrative change whenever possible, then advocate for making the changes permanent through legislation, demonstrating their effectiveness and building a record of successes to satisfy requirements for “evidence based decision-making.”
  • Take on the legislature. Use the bully pulpit to highlight their legitimacy-crisis at every opportunity and demand that they assent to the actual will of the people on these and other issues.
  • Refuse the prison gerrymander. Insist on a fair redistricting map that counts incarcerated people in the communities that they come from for political representation and funding rather than the communities that hold them captive. States are authorized to adjust census data to end prison-based gerrymandering, and many already do.
  • Create a blue ribbon commission or task force to implement these and other strategies for reducing the number of people under control of the Department of Corrections (DOC) in Wisconsin. Appoint formerly incarcerated people and trusted reformers to that commission and give it the power to hold the DOC accountable to changes.
  • Fund reform by implementing justice reinvestment. Shift DOC funding tagged to the number of people freed from control to mental health, public schools and the University of Wisconsin system. Invest in opportunities and the future of the people of Wisconsin, not in outdated and ineffective corrections systems.

Organizations supporting these initiatives:

ACLU of Wisconsin
All of Us or None
Black Leaders Organizing for Communities (BLOC)
Black Lives Matter to Wisconsin Unitarian Universalists
Breaking Barriers Mentoring
Circles of Support
CloseMSDF Coalition
Forum For Understanding Prison (FFUP)
Felmers Chaney Advisory Board
Greater Milwaukee Green Party
JustLeadershipUSA
Lake Superior Socialist Action
Lake Superior Ex-Incarcerated People Organizing
Milwaukee Democratic Socialists of America (DSA)
Milwaukee DSA- Libertarian Socialist Caucus
Moorish Strong Hold 1492 LLC
Moorish Science Temple of America
Prison Action Milwaukee (PAM)
ProjectRETURN
Rid-Racism Milwaukee
Superior Save the Kids
WISDOM

ACLU of Wisconsin
All of Us or None
Black Leaders Organizing for Communities (BLOC)
Black Lives Matter to Wisconsin Unitarian Universalists
Breaking Barriers Mentoring
Circles of Support
CloseMSDF Coalition
Community Uprise
The Demeter Foundation, Inc
Ex-Incarcerated People Organizing (ExPO)
Forum For Understanding Prison (FFUP)
Felmers Chaney Advisory Board
Grassroots Northshore
Greater Milwaukee Green Party
JustLeadershipUSA
Lake Superior Socialist Action
Lake Superior Ex-Incarcerated People Organizing
Madison Area Urban Ministry
Milwaukee Democratic Socialists of America (DSA)
Milwaukee DSA- Libertarian Socialist Caucus
Moorish Strong Hold 1492 LLC
Moorish Science Temple of America
National Association of Social Workers, Wisconsin Chapter
Our Wisconsin Revolution (OWR)
Prison Action Milwaukee (PAM)
ProjectRETURN
Rid Racism Milwaukee
Superior Save the Kids
WISDOM
Wisconsin Voices
YWCA Southeast Wisconsin

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.