Freedom’s Cause #37 – March 21, 2021


As of Friday, March 19, the count of active positive cases among incarcerated persons stands at 31 (up from 29 two weeks ago). 895 persons are in quarantine (up from 894), and 32 are in isolation (down from  36). The number of reported deaths stands at 25. Active positive cases are reported in DCI (19), FLCI (1), MSDF (2), RCI/Sturtevant (2), RYOCF (6), and Thompson CC (2). The total count of positive tests for incarcerated persons has reached 10, 902 (up from 10,868). Among staff members, there are 11 active cases (down from 13). The total number of staff cases has risen from 2,490 to 2,502. (Source: DOC official site)


(March 16) — Republican lawmakers introduced a bill Monday that would require Wisconsin prisoners to spend their COVID-19 stimulus dollars on restitution. President Joe Biden signed a $1.9 trillion stimulus package last week that includes $1,400 checks for Americans at qualifying income levels. Democrats rejected a Republican amendment to the package that would have prohibited prisoners from receiving checks. Under Wisconsin state Sen. Julian Bradley and Rep. Joe Sanfelippo’s bill, any federal COVID recovery money sent to someone incarcerated in the state would have to go toward any restitution the prisoner owes. Bradley called the bill “a common sense proposal” in an email to The Associated Press. “President Biden’s irresponsible stimulus package sends stimulus checks to imprisoned murderers, rapists, and child molesters,” he said. “So, Rep. Sanfelippo and I are taking action to ensure the victims of these heinous crimes are paid restitution before criminals sitting in prison can profit.” No one from Sanfelippo’s office responded to message. A spokeswoman for Democratic Gov. Tony Evers had no immediate comment. A federal judge in September ruled that incarcerated people were eligible to receive stimulus checks from the federal CARES Act. (Source: AP)


(March 12)  Vanessa Swales, an investigative reporter for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, was interviewed this week on Lake Effect, the morning program on WUWM Milwaukee. She says that many prisoners have told her there’s a lack of resources for protection from the coronavirus—masks are not always given, hand sanitizer and soap can be hard to find, and prisons have continued to keep inmates in large groups and refused to separate out people who might have COVID-19.These issues are made worse by fears that asking for better treatment will lead to worse outcomes while they are inside the prison.“There’s a huge concern that there would be retaliation if they requested more protection,” she says. Every inmate that Swales spoke to said they had concerns that overcrowding in their facility was leading to increased spread of COVID-19.“When you bear that all in mind, being in prison really denies many prisoners the protections we as individuals outside in the ‘real world’ are afforded,” she says. Some have also raised concerns about transparency in the data around COVID-19 in prisons that the DOC has released. “Anecdotally, I found out while reporting this story that people were dying whilst I was reporting and it was not reflected in the numbers released by the DOC, and for many criminal justice advocates, they feel more inmates have died and that there is this lack of transparency,” she says. The DOC created a dashboard to track inmate deaths but it hasn’t been updated since January. (Source: WUWM)


(Feb. 28) In the Wisconsin judicial district made up of Kenosha, Racine and Walworth counties, Black men are more than 50 percent more likely to be sentenced to prison than white men accused of similar crimes, a study shows. According to data included in a draft report for the Wisconsin Court System, the three-county Second Circuit District has among the state’s worst disparities in sentencing outcomes when comparing white men charged with crimes to Black and Hispanic men. The report was created by the court system’s Office of Research and Justice Statistics, which presented the draft version in January 2020. The study — which states it is building on an analysis conducted by Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Patience Roggensack in 2016 — looked at differences by race for felony cases sentenced in Wisconsin between 2009 and 2018. The study looks at the state as a whole, and by outcomes in the state’s nine judicial districts.The author used the state’s online case management system to look at data from nearly 179,000 felony convictions, including variables like the severity of the charges, whether guilt was determined through trial or plea, criminal history and the defendant’s age. The study found “strong evidence of sentencing differences by race — especially among men” — when comparing people being sentenced and accounting for factors like criminal history, charge severity and age. According to the study, looking at statewide data, Black men were 28 percent more likely to be sentenced to prison than white men, and Hispanic men 19 percent more likely to be sentenced to prison. American Indian men had the worst outcomes statewide, more than 34 percent more likely to be sentenced to prison. White men are 21 percent less likely to receive a prison sentence than non-white men. “When comparing white men to all other men combined, it is remarkable that they are less likely to receive prison sentences in all districts and especially Districts 2 and 3 where they are 30 percent less likely,” the study states. However when they were sentenced to prison, the length of their sentences were not significantly different than non-white men. According to the study, there were few significant differences in sentencing outcomes for women of different races. (Source: Deneen Smith, Kenosha News)


(March 18) Kevin Cook spent two years inside McNaughton Correctional Center in Oneida County. He was there from Jan. 9, 2019 to Dec. 7, 2020, part of more than two decades behind bars for his role in a gang-related homicide in 1994. While at McNaughton, Cook experienced first hand what it meant to be incarcerated during a pandemic. “COVID just spread like wildfire throughout the whole center,” Cook said. As of Thursday, The Wisconsin Department of Corrections report shows there have been 71 positive COVID-19 tests at McNaughton since mid-March. Cook said he was one of them. He said he tested positive about a month after his cellmate developed COVID-like symptoms. “I had to stay in the room with my cellie and as a result I tested positive,” Cook said. Prison reform advocates said that’s a concern. “We have had a lot of people that have said that they wanted to be tested, because they started to have symptoms or they believed they had symptoms, and then they were told that they had to wait,” said Peggy West-Schroder, WISDOM statewide campaign coordinator. John Beard, communications director for the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, said McNaughton officials weren’t informed of the symptoms Cook’s cellmate experienced. “We’re not in the habit of denying tests to people,” Beard said. “We want to know if someone is positive, especially initially so we can isolate them to the best extent possible.” Beard said DOC policy is to medically isolate positive cases and quarantine persons exposed, which became a challenge when case numbers increased in the fall. Schroder believes the challenge goes further. “Our prisons are overcrowded,” Schroder said.The latest DOC population report shows original capacity at McNaughton is 55. The facility currently houses 94 inmates. “When you’re living on top of people there’s just simply no way that you can protect them,” Schroder said.  (Source: NBC26 Green Bay)


“Just a bit of information. At JCI the West Law here does not have briefs accessible.  It is simply considered out of plan and unable to be read.  It is extremely inconvenient and I find it interesting that this seems to be different at other institutions. Briefs are very important in the appellate procedure and with out access to them how does one learn how to proceed successfully? What institutions have access to briefs ? Why is it like this at JCI and why and what can be done to correct this issue?” 

“For those who do not know or have anyone that has internet access to the vendor catalogs. Access a keyboard you can plug into your tablet. It is only listed on their website for Wisconsin Institution. You can order this keyboard yourself by filling out an access order form and disbursement at your institution. This is the way I ordered mine, and the check has gone out. Here is the information needed to order it: # 8066601099. Soft Transparent Keyboard. $ 15.00, tax: $ .83. Note one thing. As of right now Waupun is trying to figure a way to be able to ID this once it is given to us. So even though it will arrive it may not be given to you right away, although I do hear they may have a solution as it cannot be engraved.”


(March 18) Lawmakers approved long-sought legislation Thursday limiting the use of solitary confinement in New York prisons and jails. Prolonged segregated confinement can cause permanent harms and does not properly address the root causes that lead to the punishment,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Yonkers Democrat, said. “These reforms are morally right, fiscally responsible, and will improve outcomes at jails and prisons.”There’s currently no limit on how long someone can spend in solitary, with some incarcerated people reporting months-long stints in isolation.“It is no secret that the use of solitary confinement is inhumane, unethical and constitutes torture under international law if it extends more than fifteen days,” said Democratic state Sen. Julia Salazar of Brooklyn, the chair of the Senate Committee on Crime Victims, Crime and Correction. “It must be discontinued immediately.” Under the bill, solitary confinement cannot be used as punishment for anyone with a disability or is under 21 or over 55 years of age. It is also barred for women who are pregnant, up to eight weeks postpartum or caring for children in a facility. Anyone in solitary cannot be denied basic services, treatment or needs such as clothing, food and bedding as punishment, according to the legislation.The State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision will also be required to publish monthly reports on its website with semiannual and annual cumulative reports of the total number of people in segregated confinement. The Cuomo administration, and the governor himself, have argued that the changes outlined in the bill, such as implementing alternative rehabilitative measures and creating Residential Rehabilitation Units, would be too expensive to implement. The NYC Correction Officers Union also opposes the bill. (Source: NY Daily News)

(March 11) Florida on Wednesday approved sweeping changes to restore rights for felons, including allowing them to run for public office and serve on juries once they complete their sentences and pay any court-mandated fines. The Florida clemency board approved changes proposed by Gov. Ron DeSantis to previous rules that also removed the five-to-seven-year period felons are required to wait after applying to have these rights restored. “I believe that those who have had their voting rights restored under Amendment 4, it makes sense to restore their other rights,” DeSantis said. The changes undo measures imposed a decade ago by then-Gov. Rick Scott and then-Attorney General Pam Bondi, who tightened restrictions on felons. Advocates have tied rights restoration to recidivism: a 2011 study by the Florida parole commission found that felons were three times less likely to reoffend once their rights were restored. Just two years ago, an overwhelming majority of residents approved Amendment 4, which cleared a path for the formerly incarcerated to receive their voting rights back. However, the Republican-controlled Legislature later passed a law that made receiving their voting rights back impossible unless felons had paid off all of their outstanding court fees, fines and restitution. As a consequence, only 67,000 felons had successfully received their voting rights back as of October. And those same financial barriers are presented in the new clemency process. Felons will still be required to pay off all of their outstanding balances before they’d be able to apply to run for office or attend jury duty. (Source: Politico)