The following is a response to the email Deputy Warden Kalen Ruck’s sent on 7/10/18 to everyone who expressed concern on Columbia Correctional’s abusive regulations. This response was written by members of the Milwaukee Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee. Information in these brackets >> are Ruck’s email, information underneath is our response. If you can, please write a response to Ruck’s misleading and inadequate reply. You can copy and paste the information below in your response, edit it to personalize it, or make your own response. Contact us at email@example.com if you want more information on anything talked about in this message, we’re happy to connect you to letters we’ve received from people inside Columbia and our research into this prison’s policies.
Thank you for your comments.
Wisconsin Department of Corrections policies are developed in line with state statutes and administrative code. When Department policies or institution procedures are added, updated, or rescinded, a paper copy of the policy, including the change, is provided in the CCI library for inmates. If the new policy or policy change is significant, a memo may be provided to inmates.”
We have heard concerns over how these changes function in practice, particularly putting the burden on prisoners to seek out changes that are judged “non-significant.” As one formerly incarcerated person has described the high stakes of unclear rule changes in the Wisconsin DOC:
“Policies at secure detention facilities that set the guidelines and standards for how people who are incarcerated should conduct themselves in those environments have an incredible impact on the health, safety, and security of those who work and are detained in them. When there is a lack of clarity on the rules and regulations either for those who are living in the facility or the staff that is tasked with keeping them safe untold harm can, and does, occur. If there is a lack of clear policy or knowledge of recent changes to those policies it creates confusion among the staff and those incarcerated and can lead directly towards the enforcement of rules that have changed, the punishment of someone who did not know a policy shift occurred and may cause peripheral or direct harm to the individual being supervised. If these regulations are not understood by guards then those incarcerated suffer under the punitive rule enforcement that may not even be the current policy and this causes confusion and instability in an individual’s rehabilitation and daily living. Guards that are unclear on recent rule changes are then left to their own discretion to enforce policy that they may not even know, thus fostering an environment where staff have unchecked authority and where they are being enabled to target people incarcerated.”
This is the situation that is happening now in Columbia Correctional.
”Many policies are also summarized in the CCI Inmate Handbook, which is updated regularly and available on the Department’s website.”
This document which you link to, available on the CCI website, is dated October 2016, and is not the most current form of regulations.
To reference one aspect of the 2016 rules, section 12.6, page 20, shows the rules of seating to not require placement by guards, while both updates from people inside and Ruck’s own later response show that this is the current condition. We are concerned with the revised rules, made 2017, when as one incarcerated worker describes it, “Warden Bitmann redid the rule book. As a result a push back occurred. People were protesting the assigned seating and other smaller causes. Staff had no sense of what the new rulebook stated but yet they tried to enforce it.”
It is disturbing that the deputy warden is either uninformed of the fact this or is seeking to mislead members of the public in her response.
”While it’s not clear based on your e-mail what your concerns are with the specific policies you’re citing,”
Our concerns are that they are bad regulations and are being enforced in a toxic way. As we stated in our emails, quoting someone directly affected by these rules: “They are exceedingly dangerous and cause prisoners to be driven insane and put everyone at risk.”
“I’d like to briefly address each policy:”
Your email response does not respond to each of the policies we cited. You refer to some of them, but do not address:
(9.1)(C) Braids are not permitted on trips.
(43.3) Inmates are not allowed to have in their possession any written/printed material that
details fantasy/role playing games and activities.
(43.1) Prohibition of petitions by prisoners
(10.5)(B) Property confiscated as contraband if stored in vacant bunks.
It took two weeks for you to respond to our email. I would have thought you had more than enough time to make a complete response.
” When an inmate violates prison rules, the Department may discipline the inmate in line with DOC 303 of the state Administrative Code.”
Many people have communicated with us that this is done in an arbitrary and unjust way. See above for description on how the changes function in an unclear and arbitrary way, with consequences including extended solitary confinement (“administrative confinement”).
”Inmates can submit requests to see medical, mental health, or dental staff, which are triaged by those employees.”
Many people from the inside have communicated that this is not what happens in practice, that timely medical care and mental health. The annual report issued by Columbia shows 9 mental health workers for a population of 830, a ratio of almost 100 to 1. It appears that rather than provide people with necessary medical and mental health resources, there are barriers put up to make it harder for people to access the care they need. If the system is functioning effectively, why are there so many prisoner complaints and appeals to outside members of the public on this being inadequate?
“Inmates have access to writing paper in line with Department policies, which currently limit inmates to 2 legal pads, 200 sheets of loose leaf paper, 4 notebooks, and 200 sheets of typing paper. Inmates in restrictive housing are limited to 50 sheets of paper.”
We have heard that greater restrictions are imposed on people. How does CCi regulate and determine that these resources are consistently provided to people?
”Inmates are seated for meals by security staff. If an inmate has concerns with sitting by another inmate, they can notify security staff.”
We have heard that this policy is applied in an arbitrary and destructive way, and that enormous unchecked authority is given to guards in making these determinations. Also, regulations in the 2016 inmate handbook (12.6) states “Once seated at a table, inmates may not move to another table.” This is exactly the kind of arbitrary and unclear regulation that we are talking about, where if a prisoner or guard is not fully informed, someone could get in trouble and be subject to discipline for “violating prisoner rules” for doing something that you are saying they officially should do.
”Inmate medication is distributed in line with state law and Department policy.”
We have heard many reports to the contrary. Can you provide evidence through internal audits or other documentation that show this is happening consistently? What is the basis of your assertion?
”If inmates have concerns with these or other Department policies, they can notify security staff or file an inmate complaint.”
There is a consistent pattern of prisoner complaints through the ICE system being disregarded and ignored. Columbia’s own annual report shows that in the 2017 Fiscal Year there was 1,948 prisoner complaints made, an increase in over 200 from 2016. We have heard consistently that complaints are not taken seriously, and there exist no effective internal appeals for staff abuse, and misapplication of policies. The new regulations and inconsistent communication of these changes exacerbates these problems. If this system functioned in a fair and effective way, incarcerated people wouldn’t be communicating their concerns to members of the public. They are talking to us about this because their complaints are falling on deaf ears in your institution.
We want these arbitrary regulations changed. You can expect to continue to hear from us until there are meaningful improvements at Columbia Correctional Institution.