Freedom’s Cause #32 – January 10, 2021


As of Friday, January 8, the count of active positive cases among incarcerated persons stands at 317 (down from 525 two weeks ago). 1,339 persons are in quarantine (down from 2,061), and 337 are in isolation (down from 641). The number of reported deaths has risen to 25. Active positive cases are reported in CCI (1), DCI (6), Drug Abuse CC (11), GBCI (1), JCI (1), John C. Burke (3), MSDF (2), NLCI (2), Oakhill (204), OSCI (7), RCI/Sturtevant (68), RYOCF (4), SCI (1), and Taycheedah (6). Among staff members, there are 92 active cases (down from 119). The total number of staff cases has risen from 2,167 to 2,306. (Source: DOC official site)


(January 8) Two additional inmates have died from coronavirus in Wisconsin’s prison system, bringing the total number of COVID-19 deaths to 25, according to corrections officials. The additional deaths come as more than half of the state’s roughly 20,000 prisoners have been infected. Department of Corrections spokesman John Beard said inmates who have tested positive have been medically isolated and those exposed have been quarantined “as space allows.” Transfers to and from the prison have been temporarily suspended. The largest outbreak Thursday was at Oakhill Correctional Institution in Dane County, which had 205 active infections. More than 60% of the inmate population there has been infected, as well as 13 employees. (Source: Associated Press)


(January 4) As COVID-19 cases slowly started to tick up at Kettle Moraine Correctional Institution in early September, inmate Shun Warren was trying his best to stay healthy. He wore a mask, kept 6 feet away from his fellow inmates, tried not to touch his face and washed his hands as often as possible, he said. What Warren didn’t expect was on Sept. 4 to be put in the same cell as an inmate who had just been exposed to COVID-19. The inmate’s old cellmate was sent to isolation the night before after testing positive for COVID-19, Warren said. Four days later, Warren’s new cellmate also tested positive. Six days after that, Warren did too. Wisconsin Department of Corrections spokesperson John Beard said it’s not the department’s “policy or practice” to allow coronavirus-exposed cellmates to interact with other prisoners. But despite DOC policies, three inmates — Reginald Clytus, Frank Burt and Douglas Stream, who all ended up testing positive for COVID-19 — and three Kettle Moraine staff confirmed cellmates of COVID-19-infected inmates were not separated from other inmates. The two guards and one employee asked not to be identified for fear of possible retaliation, including being fired. That’s just one example in a series of missteps that allowed cases to skyrocket at Kettle Moraine from just 12 active cases at the start of September to 74 by Sept. 16 to more than 440 by the end of the month. Cases continued to grow in October and totaled more than 870 infections — one of the largest outbreaks in the state prison system. Active cases have now dropped to zero at Kettle Moraine, but inmates and staff are frustrated with how the outbreak was handled. According to Warren, the three other inmates, two guards and one staffer: Prisoners interacted indoors when there were dozens of cases, some staff came to work with symptoms despite health screenings, other staffers continued to work after being exposed to the virus, contact tracing stopped, and inmates who transferred from another facility tested positive and likely infected others. (Source: Wisconsin State Journal)


(January 8) The order of who gets the COVID-19 vaccine in Wisconsin is not cut and dry. Our state’s vaccine advisory subcommittee continues to hash-out how the rollout should go. So far in Wisconsin, and across the country, the vaccine rollout has been slower than promised. Demand still far surpasses supply. Wisconsin’s vaccine advisory subcommittee grappled with the decision Friday, of where people serving time in prison should fit in our state’s vaccine roll-out. “You can’t ignore this population,” said Mary Muse, Director of Nursing at Wisconsin’s Department of Corrections. “I don’t want to wait until there’s a public health crisis in prisons, and there will be, to say we should have included them in the rollout earlier.” John Beard, a spokesperson for Wisconsin’s Department of Corrections, says they’re following this debate closely. “We’re going to continue to advocate for vaccinations of our essential workers and people in our care within the Department of Corrections,” Beard said. “We’ve initiated a vaccine task force within our own emergency operating system to ensure we’re fully prepared. As soon as we get the go-ahead, we will start vaccinating our workers and inmates.” (Source: WTMJ-4 TV, Milwaukee)


One of our contacts wrote this in response to a proposal to close GBCI: “Republican Representative Steffen actually made sense in his proposal – something unexpected from a Republican speaking about the prison system…. Wisconsin needs minimum and community custody facilities and Rep. Steffen supports building minimum facilities. It’s probably the best compromise Gov. Evers will get from the Republican legislature. A better plan would be to build work release centers in or near every metropolitan area of the state. Prisoners often wait 12-18 months to transfer to minimum or work release centers after being approved for transfer to reduced security. It is particularly bad for old law prisoners, all of whom have been imprisoned over 20 years. Parole Chairman Tate will not parole anyone until he or she spends time in reduced security. The current Classification Chief, Angela Hanson, prioritizes new law prisoners for transfer which leaves hundreds of old law prisoners warehoused in medium security even though they could be safely released immediately.” 


We have received many reports that COs are endangering prisoners with reckless disregard of COVID procedures. A contact in SCI sent this advice: ‘After filing a proper complaint and the complaint process does nothing…one can file what is called a John Doe Complaint with the Dane County Circuit Court with an address of: Dane County Court House, 215 South Hamilton Street, Room 1000, Madison, WI. 53703. A John Doe Complaint is the way a normal citizen files a criminal complaint. Under Wis. Stat. § 968.26(1b)(a)5, anyone can file a criminal complaint against a correctional officer if that conduct was “prohibited by state law and punishable by fine or imprisonment.” Under Wis. Admn. Code DOC 306.03 to 306.04 the only job a correctional officer has is to protect employees of  the DOC, the public, and inmates. That is the only purpose of their employment. Now, under Wis. Stat. § 946.12(1) it is a Class I felony to “intentionally fail or refuse to perform a known mandatory, non discretionary ministerial duty of the officer’s or employee’s office or employment within the manner required by law.” Further, a complaint can always be filed with the United States Department of Justice, Coordination and Review Section, Civil Rights Division, PO Box 66560, Washington, DC. 20035-66560. They investigate and prosecute for federal civil rights violations by officers.


(January 5) Vaccinations for COVID-19 soon will begin in Nebraska prisons, with health-care workers expected to get the first shots later this week, officials say. The first shipment of Moderna vaccine arrived this week, according to State Corrections Director Scott Frakes. Later this week, health care workers who work most directly with inmates will be offered the first 50 doses. “As in the community, our health care workers are at the top of the priority list,” Frakes said. After health care staff get their shots, he said, Corrections will administer the vaccine as it arrives to staff members based on the jobs they hold and their level of contact with inmates. According to the state’s vaccination plan, front-line corrections officers are included in Phase 1B of the state’s vaccination priorities, along with others who provide critical services, such as first responders. Prison inmates are listed among those in Phase 1C, which includes people ages 65-74 and people with high-risk medical conditions and vulnerable populations. Dr. Harbans Deol, medical director for Corrections, said that within those groups, shots will be prioritized based on who are at highest risk for becoming sick due to age, medical condition and other factors. As more vaccine becomes available, he said, more workers and inmates will get the shots. (Source: Omaha World Herald)

(December 14) The Michigan chapter of Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MI), a chapter of the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, today filed a lawsuit in the federal court for the Eastern District of Michigan on behalf of Muslim and Moorish Science women who are being housed with the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) and have their photographs taken and published on MDOC’s public website, OTIS, without their hijab (religious head scarves). CAIR-MI’s lawsuit, which is seeking class certification, is co-counseled by the MSU Law Civil Rights Clinic. Muslim and Moorish Science women who observe the hijab must wear it at all times while in public or in the presence of men to whom they are not closely related. MDOC houses dozens of Muslim and Moorish Science women, primarily at their Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility (WHV) in Pittsfield Township, Mich., who have repeatedly been forced to remove their hijab for an identification photograph. The lawsuit alleges that MDOC has violated the Muslim and Moorish Science women’s rights under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) and the Michigan Constitution. The women are seeking declaratory relief, a permanent injunction against MDOC’s discriminatory photograph policy and damages. (Source: CAIR official site)

(December 28) A new app being used in Hennepin County could keep people out of jail. The county’s public defender’s office is partnering with Uptrust, a two-way messaging app specifically for defense attorneys and their clients. Mary Moriarty, Hennepin County’s chief public defender, sees Uptrust as a crucial reminder service for clients so they don’t miss court appearances. She says clients mostly miss court dates for innocent reasons, such as losing paperwork or not having transportation or daycare.“[With Uptrust] a lawyer could be standing in court and the client isn’t there, and then the client can text them, ‘My bus is late,’ and then the lawyer can tell the judge what’s going on,” Moriarty said. (Source: WTTO-TV, Minneapolis)