Freedom’s Cause # 14 – Apr. 12, 2020


As of Friday afternoon (April 10), nine prison employees and five inmates in Wisconsin have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Corrections Department. Of the approximately 23,000 people incarcerated in the state, just 96 have been tested as of Friday. In addition to the five positive tests, 26 were pending and 65 came back negative. The breakdown of positive/completed tests among incarcerated persons by prison: OSCI 3/12, CCI 2/6. Among staff who tested positive, five were at MSDF, three at CCI, and one at WCI. There were three additional positive tests in Community Corrections Region 3, Milwaukee. Staff information is self-reported. (Source: DOC website). 

The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin asked the state Supreme Court on Friday (April 10) to force Gov. Tony Evers’ administration to release inmates to mitigate the spread of coronavirus and protect vulnerable prisoners. The lawsuit contends one inmate with kidney disease and another with cardiac disease are being put at serious risk by being kept in a prison system where the illness is spreading.  Ordinarily, lawsuits are filed in circuit court and take months or years to get to the state Supreme Court. But the inmates and ACLU are presenting their case directly to the high court in hopes it will deal with the issue quickly because the coronavirus pandemic is widening around the globe.  (Source: Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)

Nearly a month after the Department of Corrections announced it was ending work release in the hope of stopping the spread of COVID-19, prisoners from at least two facilities continue to be bused to jobs at a Menomonee Falls warehouse. The men are working side by side with non-inmates at Union Supply Group, a company that contracts with the Department of Corrections to run its canteen program. The situation puts the public at risk, said David Larsen, associate professor of public health at Syracuse University. ‘Here, with work release, you’re increasing risk of transmission for the rest of the prisoners, the guards — everybody,’ he said. There is also a risk of infection for the wider community. (Source: Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)

On Tuesday, April 7, the Wisconsin DOC issued new guidelines on the use of Personal Protective Equipment. The statement says (in part): ‘In light of new CDC data and guidance, DOC is now permitting and encouraging all staff to bring and wear cloth face masks, whenever possible. In addition, DOC is striving to provide personal protective equipment (PPE), as resources allow, to staff and persons in our care in identified areas where COVID-19 has been confirmed to be present. Employees that are issued medical-grade PPE as part of their job duties must continue to wear the DOC-issued PPE as required.’ (Source: DOC website)


A contact in SCI reports:  ‘While most of the staff here are decent, caring people,… the info. presented to you on the website is a tad misleading. There is no social distancing being practiced “during dining” here. We sit four to a table in a day room that doubles as a dining room with 90-100 guys all eating at the same time. Myself and some others try to keep a cushion of 6 feet while in the chow line and otherwise, but…fill in the blank. Furthermore, when you read that part about PPE’s being made available to staff, you may get the impression that the staff are actually wearing these, but you’d be wrong. I have seen a couple of the teachers wearing masks, but that’s it. The officers and other staff I see do not….The ABC news this morning quoted someone @ OSCI as saying they “don’t know” how the three inmates who tested positive there became infected. You don’t have to be a reporter to ascertain that it was most-likely transmitted by a staff member.’ 

A contact in CCI reports: ‘White shirt’s have been sending CO’s home after noticing they have COVID 19. But it’s too late; they have it and are working and not saying shit. So hang on everybody, because it’s getting bad in CCI. I was just told by a CO that he knows of 9 CO’s being sent home with COVID 19.’  

A contact in OSCI writes: ‘As of 4-8-20 OSCI is on “modified movement”. What this means is that our dayroom are closed. We are not allowed to sit out there unless it’s time to eat. During that time we are allowed only 2 to a table, whereas there is normally 4. Out in the yard we are only allowed to walk with one other person and sit only 2 to the picnic tables. We are told we can wear a cloth face mask, however none is provided to us. If we are inside we’re in our rooms. So I’m sure the yards will be packed. This is for right now. If any more cases show up I’m sure we’ll go into full lockdown. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if it does get worse and the National Guard ends up inside the prison system assisting the security staff.’

A contact in PDCI sent us this: ‘As you know, the DOC says they have stopped transfers and admissions. Mon 4/6 …3 inmates were brought into PDCI on a van from a different prison. Yes they are in quarantine, but how much can that do, when there are other people in the same small area with the same ventilation system??? Same staff moving from place to place all over the prison!!!’ 

A contact in KMCI writes: ‘I just read a new memo and it basically says if you leave the institution for any reason (only medical right now) you will be quarantined for up to 14 days in seg and they won’t save your cell for you. I’ve been here for 7 years and earned a single cell; now I risk being punished because one of these officers brought this virus in here. We should not be PUNISHED because we come forward with possible symptoms. I worked in maintenance for over 4 years here and I can tell you FOR SURE the rooms in seg are not negative pressure. If one guy uses the bathroom you smell it down the tier; if one guy gets sprayed with gas, everyone smells it. So now all you’re doing is spreading it around in seg??? Don’t see many doing the right thing now just so they can be punished.’

A report from JCI: ‘There finally seem to be action from the powers that be in preparing for the isolation of prisoners returning from outside the institution. It has only taken about a month for someone to realize that perhaps they should do SOMETHING! The “something”…is the conversion of part of a housing unit to accommodate prisoners returning from either court or essential trips. From what I’ve learned, prisoners returning to the institution will be required to spend time in “isolation” away from the prison population. However, there are several issues I see with JCI’s logic in isolating only prisoners returning to the institution. First, the institution will be placing these prisoners on a unit which houses other prisoners who have not left the institution. Thus, the isolated prisoners will use the same showers and phones as those prisoners who are also housed on the same unit. Second, what plans does JCI have regarding the officers who return with these prisoners who may have been exposed to Covid-19?…. At any rate, we are all at the mercy of our Maker. May we remember our humanity during these difficult times.’


A federal judge on Thursday (April 9) denied a request to release medically vulnerable inmates at Chicago’s Cook County jail but ordered officials to step up coronavirus testing for detainees and improve sanitation protocols. The facility is experiencing one of the largest outbreaks from a single location in the country. More than 400 confirmed cases of the virus have been linked to the jail. As of Thursday, 276 detainees and 172 sheriff’s office staff have tested positive. One detainee died after contracting the virus. (Source: CBS News)

Over 60 immigrant detainees at a federal detention center in Rhode Island are on their fourth day of a hunger strike, demanding to be released due to concerns over the coronavirus spread. According to recorded conversations between two male detainees at the Wyatt Detention Center in Central Falls, Rhode Island, and their attorneys, the hunger strike grew out of concerns that overcrowded conditions at the facility make it impossible to practice proper social distancing. Some of those participating in the hunger strike include people with cardiac issues and lung cancer, along with other pre-existing conditions that make people more vulnerable to COVID-19. ‘They made a few changes, they gave us one bar of ivory soap apiece and they started spraying bleach once every night on the railings and the showers, saying that’s the way they are gonna remedy the situation with corona,’ said one detainee in a recording from Monday (April 6). (Source: Commonwealth)

An article in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel (see ‘Updates’ no. 3, above) linked to research by Milwaukee IWOC on Union Supply, which was awarded a state contract to provide canteen services to the Department of Corrections in 2018. The article states: ‘The prices (set by Union Supply) are higher than what people on the outside pay and include a 10% markup that goes back to the Department of Corrections. A bar of ivory soap, for example, costs 58 cents, according to a 2018 canteen price list. Purchased in a package of 10 at Target, the same bar would cost 39 cents. A package of ramen noodles costs an inmate 25 cents. Before the coronavirus pandemic increased demand, that same item could be purchased for 10 cents at some grocery stores.’ (Source: Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)

In a research paper for the Prison Policy Initiative, Alexi Jones argues that states should stop excluding violent offenses from criminal justice reforms. She writes: ‘Categorically excluding people convicted of violent offenses seriously undermines the impact of otherwise laudable…reforms. Troublingly, these carve-outs also demonstrate policymakers’ reluctance to make better choices, based on current evidence, than their “tough on crime” era predecessors. In order to dramatically reduce prison populations and make our communities safer, federal and state legislators must roll back counterproductive, draconian penalties for both violent and nonviolent offenses, and invest in alternatives to incarceration and violence prevention strategies that can effect real change.’ (Source: Prison Policy Initiative)