Freedom’s Cause #13: Coronavirus in Wisconsin Prisons

FREEDOM’S CAUSE

Bi-weekly Bulletin of Milwaukee IWOC March 22, 2020
CORONAVIRUS UPDATES
-Eighteen prisoners were quarantined and 11 prison medical workers been sent home after a doctor at Waupun Correctional Institution was infected with coronavirus. Warden Brian Foster was not specific about who had been infected, but two people familiar with operations at the maximum-security prison said it was a doctor who had recently been out of the country. The prison holds more than 1,200 prisoners, making it about 140% overcapacity. WCI has implemented a new cleaning process to ward off the illness, according to Foster. Anna Neal, a spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections, did not immediately provide other details Thursday (3/19) about how the agency is dealing with the incident. (Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel) 
-Waupun CI has been locked down. In a memo dated March 19, Warden Brian Foster stated that showering will be conducted as scheduled, but canteen will be delivered at cell front, and meals will be eaten in cells. Inmate workers will be reduced to a minimum, and ‘constant cleaning will continue throughout the institution’. (Source: official DOC web page)
-On March 13, the DOC suspended all non-professional visits to DOC institutions. Medical co-pays were also suspended at that time. On March 19, DOC announced that two free phone calls per week would be provided until visits resume; it also increased the canteen spending limits from $42 to $50 (weekly) and $84 to $100 bi-weekly. On the same day, transfers from contracted county jail beds were suspended. (Source: official DOC web page). 


NEWS FROM INSIDE
-Referring to a radio interview given by DOC Secretary Kevin Carr, an incarcerated person in CCI said, ‘His response…was false entirely.’ He added that he had seen no evidence of additional cleaning in his facility or changes to the phone policy, which has recently been restricted. He also said that he had not yet received instructions from DOC concerning prisoners’ safety. 
-A contact reported on Saturday (3/21) that the GBCI is on lockdown. Prisoners may leave their cells only for medical passes, social worker visits, property pickups, and “essential work”. He added that no attempt has been made to relieve the stress that results from constant confinement. When he offered on Wednesday to haul a cart of books from the library to prisoners’ cells, he was told, ‘We’ll discuss it.’
-A contact in RGCI reported on Saturday that in spite of a semi-lockdown and ‘social distancing’ policy, prisoners are still crowded together when they work in the kitchen. 
-A contact at KMCI has heard from another prisoner that medical staff will not be testing the population for the virus, but will quarantine and treat for symptoms. 
-A contact in Waupun CI reported on Friday that despite a prison-wide lockdown (see above) and the isolation of prisoners who show symptoms of the virus, prisoners are doing laundry, food, and cleaning jobs without protective equipment, and staff are handing out meds without using gloves. Another wrote that while some COs were wearing protective masks, prisoners who were delivering food were provided only with latex gloves. A third contact indicated that prisoners are having to rely on family members and a local TV station for news updates about the virus. The request of a fourth contact, who has asthma, for a mask was denied as a ‘security risk’.  
-A contact in KMCI reported on Wednesday (3/18) that school, recreation, and library had been cancelled. He added that free phone calls are not helpful when there are four phones for sixty-six inmates; the wait time for making a call is about 2 1/2 hours. A contact in OSCI wrote on Friday evening (3/19) that prisoners there are still restricted to five calls per week. 
-A contact in WCI reported on Wednesday that several staff members had told them that they were still reporting to work as normally, without testing. 
-A contact in Winnebago CC reported on Wednesday that all work release had been suspended, but there had been no indication that rent would be reduced accordingly. 
-A contact in Taycheedah says that in spite of a prison-wide lockdown, prisoners who should be quarantined are allowed to use the laundry room. 

STATEMENT BY MILWAUKEE IWOC
Milwaukee IWOC has demanded that emergency measures be taken to protect the health of incarcerated people against the COVID-19 virus. Specifically, IWOC called for an immediate reduction of the prison population throughout Wisconsin, prohibition of transfers between correctional facilities, adoption of special protocols for interaction between prisoners and guards, testing of prison workers once a week, and free e-mail and phone communication for prisoners who are locked down. In a press release issued on March 18, IWOC appended these demands to the testimonies of contacts at NLCI, GBCI, PDCI, and SCI about the lack of serious precautions against the spread of the virus. The statement was cited in several media sources, including the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. 

FROM THE PRESS

-On Wednesday (3/18), the ACLU of Wisconsin joined a growing chorus nationwide recommending that high-risk inmates be released from jails and prisons to help blunt the coming impact of COVID-19. In a letter, the ACLU called on Gov. Tony Ever to commute the sentences of anyone with less than year left to serve, anyone with less two years to serve if they are considered high-risk according to the Centers for Disease Control, and anyone being held on a technical violation of probation.The latter group would account for large portion of the population at the Department of Corrections Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility in downtown Milwaukee. A spokesperson for Evers’ office said the governor had not seen the letter, and was not able offer an immediate response. (Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)-New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Wednesday (3/18) that city officials will this week identify individuals for release, including people who were arrested for minor crimes and those most vulnerable to infection due to underlying health problems. His announcement came hours after a guard and a prisoner tested positive for coronavirus at Rikers Island prison. On Tuesday, officials in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department announced that they had reduced its inmate population by 600 in the last two weeks.The LA County jail system is the largest prison system in the world with an average population of around 22,000 prisoners. (Source: BBC News)

-Immigrants detained in the Essex County Correctional Facility have organized a hunger strike in response to growing concerns about a coronavirus outbreak in the jail, a group of immigration attorneys said Wednesday. In a statement released by New York City public defenders, the conditions at the Essex correctional facility “have deteriorated to such an extent” that an entire unit has launched a hunger strike and is demanding Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials release them. ‘The hunger strike just underlines how deeply problematic ICE’s management of the situation is,’ the joint statement said. ‘We are in the midst of an unprecedented crisis. ICE has done nothing to rise to the occasion but instead continues to put the lives of hundreds of people at risk.’ (Source: nj.com)-In an op-ed piece in the New York Times, Emily Bazelon called for sweeping reforms in the criminal justice system in the wake of the coronavirus epidemic. She cited examples in Washington State, Georgia, and Ohio of prosecutors and courts refusing to incarcerate persons for misdemeanor and traffic offenses. ‘The pandemic,’ she wrote, ‘is an opportunity to rethink how the system treats low-level offenses, which account for 60 per cent of arrests nationally.’ She added that people should not be arrested and incarcerated for technical (i.e., noncriminal) violations of parole and probation. (Source: New York Times)

Conditions in the Wisconsin prison system need to change.