As of Friday, November 6, the count of active positive cases among incarcerated persons stands at 1,703 (up from 854 two weeks ago). 5,330 persons are in quarantine (up from 1,832), and 1,451 are in isolation (up from 620). Active positive cases are reported in NLCI (301), RGCI (298), WCI (212), DCI (178), JCI (114), REECC (85), Chippewa (82) RCI (77), OSCI (49), GBCI (62), TCI (61), FLCI (41), SCI (38), Black River (34), MSDF (17), McNaughton (17), CCI (14), Copper Lake/Lincoln Hills (7), Oakhill (6), PDCI (3), Drug Abuse CC (3), Thompson (2), MWCC (1), Oregon (1), and RYOCF (1). Among staff members, there are 265 active cases (up from 160). The total number of staff cases has risen from 783 to 1,157. (Source: DOC official site)
MORE COVID DEATHS
(November 5) As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in the Wisconsin prison system, the state Department of Corrections has reported five more prisoners have died, bringing the total number of COVID-19-related inmate deaths to 10. In all, 4,925 inmates have been infected since the pandemic began, including 176 new cases among inmates Wednesday, according to DOC’s data dashboard. Nearly 1,000 new cases have been added within the last week. DOC reports deaths when a local medical examiner or coroner has confirmed that COVID-19 was an underlying cause of death or a significant condition that contributed to death. More prisoners may have died from COVID-19, but they won’t be added to DOC’s data dashboard until the medical examiner confirms it. (Source: Wisconsin State Journal)
A BOTCHED OPPORTUNITY
(November 6) More than 8 percent of Wisconsin’s prison inmates are currently infected with COVID-19. DOC spokesman John Beard said in the past week the Wisconsin National Guard has conducted mass ‘outbreak testing’ at five state prisons, including Dodge Correctional Institution and New Lisbon Correctional Institution. In order to separate infected inmates from the general population, Beard said some prisons have moved those inmates to solitary confinement cells, which DOC calls ‘restrictive housing,’ because they have toilets and sinks. But some state prisons don’t have enough space to separate infected inmates. ‘So to limit any other movement to try to keep the virus from spreading, in a couple of instances, they have to quarantine everyone in place to make sure no one else is moving, because at that point it becomes logistically difficult,’ Beard said. Wisconsin Justice Initiative Executive Director Gretchen Shuldt said the current outbreaks in Wisconsin prisons could have been prevented if Gov. Tony Evers and the DOC had released low-risk inmates from minimum security prisons to reduce numbers. ‘This is clearly a botched opportunity on the part of the state. They could have stepped in and made this situation so much less awful than it is for people on the inside and the people outside worried about them, wondering if they’re OK, wondering if they’re dead,’ Shuldt said. (Source: Wisconsin Public Radio)
IWOC organized a phone zap to SCI out of concern for the sudden increase in COVID cases there last week. About thirty persons participated.
IWOC has obtained a copy of a memo dated October 13 from Makda Fessahaye, Administrator DAI. It states: ‘In light of a Northern District of California court decision and subject to any further court orders or appeals, the Division of Adult Institutions will not return but but will instead HOLD identified incoming CARES Act Economic Impact Payments pending a determination by the IRS and Treasury Department as to whether either will fully appeal, and if so, pending further order of 9th Federal Circuit Court of Appeals.’ We have since learned from The Community that DOC has agreed to process the checks as they come in. Please let us know if that is the case.
IWOC has received several reports of a serious reduction in the amount and caloric content of food served in DOC institutions. This report comes from WCI: ‘One sandwich with a thin slice of bologna and a thin slice of cheese and a bag of chips is not a meal. They have been doing this now for well over a month and men in double cells are fighting over bag meals and we are being told we are going to be on lock down well into next year. I don’t mean to complain when there are others less fortunate, but the State’s obligation is to care for us properly and they are neglecting that obligation.’ Similar reports have come in from SCI and GBCI. So far, IWOC has not been successful in obtaining updated menus and calorie counts from DOC.
FROM THE PRESS
(Oct. 22) The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota (ACLU-MN) is set to file a lawsuit against the the Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC), alleging that people in their custody are not being sufficiently protected from COVID-19. ACLU-MN alleges the following: An almost complete absence of social distancing throughout the prison system; staff not wearing masks and mocking those who did; staff denying testing to someone with Lyme disease who had a 103.7 fever and other symptoms; confining people who aren’t sick with those who have tested positive for COVID or show symptoms; people being denied COVID-testing, or access to a doctor while showing symptoms; ventilation being connected room to room, with recirculating air; hand sanitation stations being located outside of people’s reach, and frequently empty of sanitizer; and communal showers lacking cleaning supplies. (Source: KARE-TV, Minneaopolis)
(October 22) A state appellate court has ordered San Quentin State Prison to halve its inmate population, which would require transferring or releasing some 1,700 inmates.
The ruling from the state’s First Court of Appeals sends a clear message that officials overseeing San Quentin have not done enough to protect inmates from the coronavirus after a summer outbreak. ‘We agree that respondents — the Warden and CDCR — have acted with deliberate indifference and relief is warranted,’ the court said in its opinion. The court ordered officials to reduce the prison’s population to 50 percent of where it stood in June — a figure recommended by a team of experts after they investigated viral spread that has already killed dozens and sickened hundreds at San Quentin. The inmate reduction could be achieved through a combination of transfers and early releases, the court said. (Source: Politico)
(October 20) Gov. Phil Murphy signed a first-in-the nation bill Monday reducing sentences in a prison system with the highest coronavirus death rate in the country — a move that will release at least 2,000 inmates beginning next month. The law (S2519) takes effect in 16 days, meaning the first wave of releases will happen the day after Election Day. About 2,088 people are expected to be freed Nov. 4, according to an estimate from the governor’s office. Around 1,000 more will also be released ahead of schedule in the following weeks through January, sources previously told NJ Advance Media. Early releases will continue on a rolling basis as long as New Jersey’s public health emergency remains in effect. (Source: nj.com)
(November 5) In a report for the Canadian magazine, THIS, Syrus Ware wrote: ‘We are living in revolutionary times. The ground is shifting beneath us every day. We are seeing a radical shift in our collective consciousness about ideas pertaining to abolition and defunding the police. We are beginning to awaken to the idea that we can solve issues of conflict, crisis, and harm in ways that do not rely on the prison industrial complex and police systems.… Abolition is being taken up in the most unlikely of places—from the playground, to the family dinner table, to Cosmopolitan magazine. More importantly, it is firmly supported by a bedrock of abolitionist struggle that is 500 years strong on Turtle Island. We are fighting for this new system to be a more just one, one that is rooted in justice and freedom. We are moving steadily towards abolition and our victory seems close and sure. Now is a time to reflect on the history of the abolition movement and what the future could look like if we reach abolition in our lifetime.’ (Source: THIS Magazine)