Freedom’s Cause # 17 – May 24, 2020


As of Friday (May 22), the DOC reports that there are 36 active positive cases (vs. 7 two weeks ago) and 18 recovered positive cases among ‘persons in their care’. 1,283 persons have been tested (vs. 159 two weeks ago); 827 tests are still pending. Here is the ratio of positive tests to total tests by prison: Felmers O Chaney 18/92, Marshall E Sherrer 5/47, CCI 2/4, OSCI 8/29, WCI 21/48. Among employees, there are 26 confirmed cases in adult institutions: CCI 4, Felmers O Chaney 1, GBCI 2, Marshall E Sherrer 1, MSDF 7, OSCI 2, RCI 2, RYOCF 2, RGCI 1, Robert E Ellsworth 1, WCI 3. In addition, there were seven cases in Community Corrections Region 3 (Milwaukee), and one in Region 2 (Kenosha, Racine, Walworth). Of the 34 confirmed cases, 21 have recovered and 13 are still out. (Source: DOC official site)

On the outside: as of May 22nd, the Wisconsin DHS reports 14,396 confirmed coronavirus cases and 496 deaths out of more than 187,000 people tested. (Source: USA Today)

On May 13, DOC made the following announcement: ‘Effective May 18, 2020, the Department of Corrections will implement a Personal Care Package Program for persons in our care. This program allows family and friends to purchase approved personal care items for their loved ones at Wisconsin correctional facilities on a quarterly basis directly from Union Supply Group. Orders can be placed online at or by phone, fax, or mail.’ (Source: DOC official site)

Milwaukee County officials will soon open a newly refurbished facility in Franklin that will house county inmates and state prisoners who have tested positive for COVID-19. Work on the new facility, which will house up to 120 patients, is expected to be completed this week. It is expected to begin accepting inmates and prisoners from around the state as early as Sunday. (Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, dated May 18)

Since Gov. Tony Evers and the Department of Corrections have taken only limited  steps to reduce prison populations, lawyers are trying new tactics to get some of the most-at-risk inmates released one at a time. They are asking judges to modify sentences on the grounds that the COVID-19 threat presents a new factor that was unknowable at the time of sentencing. Lawyers for OSCI inmate John Navigato have formed Pinix & Donovan and focused on that task. The firm’s website URL is It asks, ‘Are You: Over the age of 50?  Have heart disease?  Lung Problems?  Diabetes?  Other immune system issues?  If so, you may be High RISK and qualify for EARLY RELEASE.” Christopher Donovan said that after just one ad in a prison newspaper, the partners have had dozens of inquires and so far filed three motions (Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, May 15)


This message was received on Friday (5/22) from WCI: ‘We received a memo today stating the National Guard will be testing all inmates and staff at Waupun Correctional Institution May 26-28. They will be in government personal protection suits. All staff are required to wear face masks when in the cell hall, and inmates are required to wear face masks any time they are out of their cell. Also, in response to inmates saying the state takes all their money, they are now allowing family and friends to order hygiene packs. It is a scam: a speed stick deodorant is $9.00; Act mouthwash that costs $5.90 on our canteen is $8.95; toothbrush $4, toothpaste $9, toilet paper $9. They are taking advantage of the generosity of our family and friends.’

Are staff wearing PPE in your institution? We received this on Wednesday (5/20) from CCI: ’99% of staff do not wear any PPE. Today for the first time I saw a nurse on this unit wearing a mask . Staff has repeatedly told us that PPE is “Optional For Them “. They recently had a mass shakedown in this institution, due to the escape of two max inmates. They marched in 40 corrections officers from the Academy and other prisons to conduct the search. NONE of these people were wearing any kind of PPE.’

A contact in PDCI reported on Friday (5/22) that transfer vans are still pulling up to the prison; he has heard that seven ERP inmates are due to arrive this week. Has anyone seen or heard anything about ongoing transfers? 

This came from an inside source on 5/17: ‘RGCI reported to us inmates that a staff member and or an inmate has Covid-19 here and they attempted to put us in modified lockdown. There was a huge outcry of anger and fear by inmates and the Warden relaxed the order and staff still refuse to wear a mask. Only RGCI staff can infect us and most will not wear a mask.’ Another source reported this: ‘Rumored (I received second hand) that RGCI guys had taken umbrage on the issue of how Coronavirus is being handled and refused to lock-in. The conveying staff member said that he had had to pull extra duty there as well as here.’

A contact in OSCI sent this query: ‘In relation to other prisons throughout Wisconsin, we’d like to know how often the prisons send out inmate emails. See, in Oshkosh, they claim that they are only supposed to send them out once a day on third shift. We’d like to know if it is proper for them to do this, because, truthfully, I feel that this is limiting our contact with our loved ones and friends. Can you contact others in institutions to see what their policies are?’

From another contact in OSCI: ‘Currently, I am in court in Dane County Court Case No.2020CV000719 Brandon Horak V. Kevin Carr. This is simply a Writ of Certiorari against the DOC secretary. HOWEVER, if you will blast to inmates that I am MORE THAN WILLING to assist them in Civil Rights claims and or Administrative Violations, I will do so at no cost, from the Inmate Complaint all the way to filing court motions. Inmates can reach me at Brandon Horak #634603, Oshkosh Correctional Institution, P.O. Box #3310, Oshkosh, WI. 54903-3310.’

From an inside contact: ‘One of my fellow prisoners received a message from some[one] called Lady that stated the Public Defender’s Offices were looking to assist those of us prisoners that are filing Sentence Modifications. Have you heard anything on this? I am actually in the process of filing one soon, but not just because of Covid 19, I have another issue. But if combining would help, I’m ready to find out all I can as quickly as possible. Any info. would be appreciated.’

Update on deductions from Ron Schroeder: ‘Marcus Kerby filed suit against DOC claiming their 50% deductions per DAI Policy 309.45.02 was contrary to his judgment of conviction, which called for only 25%. The circuit court ruled in his favor and DOC appealed. While the case was in the court of appeals, Kerby was released from prison. The court dismissed the case on grounds Kerby was released, no longer subject to the deductions, and thus the case was moot. Ron Schroeder had filed a similar suit, but he challenged the policy itself, not only as the DAI policy applied to him. He argued that because his suit challenged the DAI policy itself, it affected many others still in prison and therefore his (own) release did not moot the case. He requested permission to brief (argue in writing) mootness as to his case. The judge granted his request and Schroeder’s brief is due May 29th. The case is Schroeder v. Jess, Dane Co. case no. 2019CV229.


According to the Marshall Project, which keeps a running tally of COVID cases in US prisons, at least 29,251 people in prison tested positive for the illness by May 20—a 19 percent increase from the week before. Much of the remarkable recent growth in coronavirus cases has been due to a handful of states—Ohio, Tennessee, Arkansas, Michigan, North Carolina among them—that began aggressively testing nearly everyone at prisons where people had become sick. This spate of testing would suggest that coronavirus had been circulating in prisons in much greater numbers than known, and that in the many states where tests have not been prevalent, far more people may have been carrying it than were initially reported. There have been at least 415 deaths from coronavirus reported among prisoners. (Source: The Marshall Project)

According to a story published on May 21, the Cap Times and Wisconsin Watch interviewed nearly two dozen inmates, analyzed data and talked with experts to gauge how Wisconsin had responded to the pandemic in its prisons and jails. The findings: 1) Outside of three counties that have conducted mass-testing, most jails surveyed by the Cap Times/Wisconsin Watch reported testing few, if any, inmates. The picture is the same in state prisons. As of May 18, the state Department of Corrections tested just 405 of the state’s 22,000 inmates — roughly half the testing rate per 1,000 people among the state’s general population. DOC announced in early May it would test all inmates in Wisconsin, beginning with its facilities in Milwaukee. 2) Wisconsin’s overcrowded prisons lag far behind county jails in reducing inmate populations, which experts say is crucial to allow for physical distancing. On average, jails surveyed by the Cap Times/Wisconsin Watch housed 37% fewer inmates in May than they did before the pandemic struck. The prison population decreased by just 5%. 3) In interviews, emails and letters, inmates confirmed prisons have upped cleaning protocols, handed out cloth masks and implemented physical distancing rules where possible. But they said key protections are still missing. Correctional officers go against CDC guidelines by routinely working without masks, and inmates are frequently within 6 feet of each other during meals and in common areas. (Source:

A report published by the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau (LRB) concludes that ‘the governor, DOC, and the courts all have some authority to order the change of prison operating procedures or to release certain inmates as part of a  COVID-19 response strategy.’ The governor’s specific authority derives from his constitution powers of clemency, as well as statutory authority (Wisc. 323.12 [4]) to ‘issue such orders as he or she deems necessary for the security of persons and property’ during an emergency. The report also outlines the authority of the DOC to release prisoners under provisions for bifurcated sentences, parole, compassionate release, and juvenile detention. (Source: LRB Reports vol. 4, number 7, May 2020). 

On May 19, a federal judge ordered the Bureau of Prisons to expedite the release of 837 medically vulnerable prisoners in Elkton FCI through home confinement and compassionate release, citing ‘poor progress in transferring the subclass members out of Elkton through the various means referenced in the Court’s preliminary injunction Order.’ This class action habeas petition was brought by the ACLU of Ohio and the Ohio Justice and Policy Center on April 13. Meanwhile, county jails in Colorado and Florida are reporting population decreases by over 30% in the past few months. (Source: Prison Policy Initiative)