Freedom’s Cause #31 – December 27, 2020


As of Wednesday, December 23, the count of active positive cases among incarcerated persons stands at 525 (down from 1,039 two weeks ago). 2,061 persons are in quarantine (down from 2,192), and 641 are in isolation (down from 1,310). The number of reported deaths has risen to 23. Active positive cases are reported in Chippewa Valley (1), Copper Lake/Lincoln Hills (4), DCI (20), Drug Abuse CC (4), FLCI (45), JCI (143), John C. Burke (5), MSDF (11), NLCI (5), Oakhill (172), OSCI (12), RCI (20), RYOCF (4), Redgranite (3), Robert E Ellsworth (6), Taycheedah (68), WCI (1), WSPF (1). Among staff members, there are 119 active cases (down from 173). The total number of staff cases has risen from 2,031 to 2,167. (Source: DOC official site)


IWOC received this report via the Community: “Sadly, December 21 at 8:17am, my friend Linda Dancer passed away at only 60 years old.  She had survived throat cancer and covid-19. Unfortunately it weakened her body too much and she was roomed with a person newly diagnosed with covid and pneumonia and in return also ended up with pneumonia. She died slowly, alone, without any pain medication. She cried from the pain until her last breath. It was cruel and inhumane. She was taken out in a blue plastic bag on a gurney in the back of a minivan. I never got to say goodbye or even give her the Christmas card I made for her. It’s left a hole in my heart. In less than 3 hours of her last breath all her belongings were removed, the room cleaned, bed remade, and any resemblance of her 30 plus year existence in Taycheedah gone forever.”


(December 17) In a message posted on the DOC website, Secretary Kevin Carr states: “I imagine that many of you have heard talk of COVID-19 vaccines and are wondering where Persons in Our Care fall on the list of those to receive vaccines. While we don’t yet have a concrete timetable for when this will happen, the DOC’s Emergency Operation Center has put together a vaccine task force to work with the Department of Health Services and our local health agencies to ensure we advocate for our staff and those in our care, and get vaccines to our institutions as soon as it is possible. As we learn more, we will update that information on our public website, so I encourage you all to check DOC’s public COVID-19 webpage frequently for the most up-to-date information.” (Source: DOC official site)


(December 23) Inmates at a Wisconsin prison will not be able to see loved ones this Christmas. Family members are normally given permission to visit prisons. However, that’s not happening this year at Redgranite Correctional Institution because of COVID-19 and staffing issues. Zoom calls also won’t happen. Paul Mertz has been a correctional officer for the past 15 years at Redgranite and he said the coronavirus pandemic has exposed long-term problems within Wisconsin prison systems. “If the prison had been properly staffed to begin with, this wouldn’t have been a problem I don’t think,” Mertz said. In the spring, Wisconsin prisons moved their visitations to Zoom. According to the DOC, the amount of and length of video calls vary by institutions. A DOC spokesman said it takes time cleaning and disinfecting the zoom rooms inmates use and outbreaks have impacted the visits. Inmates at Redgranite get zoom visitations once every two weeks for 30 minutes from Tuesday through Thursday and Saturday to Sunday. “Zoom visits were only once every two weeks you could visit. Where if they were in person, I could go twice a week if I wanted to,” Michelle Warn said. Her fiancée, 29-year-old Jacob Scheer, is imprisoned at Redgranite. He contracted COVID-19 behind bars and is on oxygen. (Source: WBAY-TV, Green Bay)


(December 20) Governor Tony Evers says he isn’t sure yet what the future holds for Green Bay Correctional Institution. A new report indicates the 122-year-old facility should be shut down. A 2009 study provided similar guidance. “It is beyond debate at this point, GBCI needs to be closed,” said State Rep. David Steffen, R-Howard, who has been leading the charge to close the maximum security prison. “The main findings of this most recent report is that facility is beyond repair. It has failed all five of the major building code and construction codes relating to prisons.” The $600,000 study provides three options that could help close the prison. Proposed expansions to Dodge and Fox Lake prisons would each cost well over $300 million. Steffen prefers the option of relocating Green Bay’s inmates to Stanley Correctional, which would convert to a max security prison. Stanley’s inmates and others would also be relocated, along with two minimum security prisons likely being built near Milwaukee. Steffen says that option is more cost effective and will take less time than his original proposal of building a new maximum-security prison in our area. “To be honest, there’s been a lot of groups opposed to the idea of having a brand new maximum security facility built,” said Steffen.“Many believe we need to look at how many people we have in these institutions,” said Evers. Evers is expected to unveil his two-year budget in February. (Source: WLUK-TV, Green Bay)


(December 17) Prisons across the U.S. have been hit hard by COVID-19. But in Colorado and most other states, prisoners aren’t near the front of the line for initial doses of COVID-19 vaccine now being distributed. Initially, Colorado had inmates in the second phase of vaccine distribution, set for the spring, behind health workers and first responders but ahead of other adults over 65 with health conditions. Prisoners were to be treated like others in group housing, including homeless shelters and college dorms. But an outcry followed. Suburban Denver prosecutor George Brauchler said the plan would have allowed two men convicted of killing the son of 66-year-old state Sen. Rhonda Fields to be vaccinated before her. Though Colorado changed course, California, North Carolina, Maryland, Delaware, Utah, New Mexico, Nebraska, Montana and Massachusetts have prisoners among the first to get the vaccine this winter. Some states also have taken steps to reduce COVID-19 risks behind bars by releasing nonviolent offenders early. But even in states with the biggest prison outbreaks, inmates often weren’t on early vaccine distribution plans. The five states with the highest number of coronavirus cases in their prisons, according to data compiled as part of a joint project by The Associated Press and The Marshall Project — Texas, California, Florida, Michigan and Wisconsin — did not include details about how they would prioritize prisoners in their October draft reports to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Michigan has decided to treat prisoners like everyone else, vaccinating them based on their age and health problems and not prioritizing them as a group. Jail and prison workers, however, are set to be vaccinated along with other essential workers before people 65 and older or those 16 and 64 with conditions like heart disease and diabetes that can worsen COVID-19, according to a state plan updated Sunday. Wisconsin is still deciding which groups should get shots after its first wave of vaccinations. Texas likely will consider prisoners along with other vulnerable populations, but plans are unclear. (Source: Associated Press)

(December 10) University of Wisconsin System President Tommy G. Thompson told the Board of Regents Thursday he is calling for the benefits of a UW education to be made more available to people in prison.“This could have a profound impact on people’s lives,” Thompson said. “People who are now in prison could know they have the opportunity for a meaningful second chance and, for many, this could provide a welcome glimmer of real hope, opportunity, and optimism.” The Prison Education Initiative is one of 10 key priorities identified by the UW System in its biennial budget request for 2021-23. Partnering with the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, Wisconsin Technical College System, subject matter experts from UW-Madison, and UW Extended Campus, the initiative will develop and deliver a pilot program to offer a bachelor’s degree program at three UW campuses to adults in nearby prisons focused on fields that meet student interests and employer needs. (UW System official site)

(December 20) Congressional leaders have struck a deal to reinstate Pell grants for incarcerated students more than a quarter century after banning the aid for prison education programs, top Democrats and Republicans announced on Sunday. The legislation, which is expected to be included as part of the year-end spending deal, would lift the prohibition Congress imposed in the 1994 crime bill that then-President Bill Clinton signed and Joe Biden championed as a senator. (Source: Politico)

(December 14) Congresswoman-elect Cori Bush, D-Mo., is calling on President-Elect Biden to grant clemency to the remaining prisoners on death row, describing execution as “murder in the name of justice.” “Joe Biden cannot leave the lives of those on death row in the hands of future presidents,” wrote Bush, who is considered a new member of the progressive “Squad.”  Her comments came on Monday in a Time Magazine op-ed amid an uproar over the Trump administration’s decision to resume federal executions. “If [Biden] truly opposes the death penalty,” she wrote, “he must do everything in his power to stop it for good. Granting clemency to all on federal death row is his most effective tool.” (Source: Fox News)

(December 11) A Ramsey County judge has blasted the Minnesota Department of Corrections for its handling of the pandemic, citing the “staggering” rate of COVID-19 infections within the state prison system. District Judge Sara Grewing ordered the Corrections Department to appear in court on Jan. 15 and show cause “why they should not be ordered to perform their legal duty” to keep prisoners safer during the pandemic. (Source: Minneapolis Star Tribune)