Freedom’s Cause #39 – April 25, 2021


As of Friday, April 23, the count of active positive cases among incarcerated persons stands at  18 (up from 14 two weeks ago).  994 persons are in quarantine (up from 937), and 26 are in isolation (up from 20). The number of reported deaths stands at 26. Active positive cases are reported in JCI (2), KMCI (1), RYOCF (2), Taycheedah (12), and Thompson (1). The total count of positive tests for incarcerated persons has reached 10,951 (up from 10,931). Among staff members, there are 17 active cases (up from 16). The total number of staff cases has risen from 2,520 to 2,535. (Source: DOC official site)


(April 14) The Wisconsin Department of Corrections has vaccinated 17% of state prisoners against COVID-19, but is still lagging behind the statewide vaccination rate of 37.6% of residents who have received a dose — despite all inmates having been eligible since March 1. Although the vaccines seem to be running behind, the number of COVID-19 cases in the prison system has plummeted. On Tuesday, the active case count among prisoners was just six — the lowest it has been since June 19. Also as of Tuesday, 3,293 state prisoners had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to DOC vaccine data that is now updated weekly. ACLU attorney Tim Muth said that’s an improvement from last Monday when only 7%, or 1,382 of DOC’s roughly 19,470 prisoners, had gotten a dose. But he’s frustrated that the prisons haven’t been vaccinating inmates as quickly as the rest of the state, especially because prisoners have been eligible for so long. He said the vaccination process has “clearly been slow.” (Source: Wisconsin State Journal)


(April 12) Roger Bruesewitz, who died in 2019 at 82, spent much of his early life in and out of jail after robbing businesses, running “a dirty bookstore” and dealing with a heroin addiction. But he’s leaving behind a very different legacy. Bruesewitz went on to graduate with honors from UW-Madison with a degree in journalism, become a copy editor for the UW-Madison Law School and buy his own little house in Monona. Before he died, Bruesewitz decided he wanted to donate almost the entirety of his modest estate to local organizations supporting ex-offenders, journalism and veterans. He left all of his money to his longtime friend Mary Rouse, former dean of students at UW-Madison. She has doled out more than $158,500 to nonprofits and other causes she thinks Bruesewitz would have been passionate about. The most recent donation of $25,000 was used to create a scholarship fund at UW-Madison for formerly incarcerated individuals to go to college. It’s called the Mary K. Rouse & Roger P. Bruesewitz Beyond Bars scholarship. (Source: Associated Press)


(April 21) Wisconsin’s juvenile prisons made a “vast improvement” in meeting court-ordered changes and in overall atmosphere since December, the latest report released Tuesday from a monitor found. The positive report from court-ordered monitor Teresa Abreau was based on a March visit to the Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls. It came after a report on her December visit detailed worsening conditions. There continues to be concern regarding programming, use of force, restraints and other issues, the monitor said, but noted: “There has been vast improvement in many areas of the consent decree and overall atmosphere from the last site visit.” The report said the use of mechanical restraints on youth decreased 63% between December and February and the use of confining an inmate to their room dropped 36% during the same time. The amount of time an inmate stays in solitary confinement also dropped from an average of 143 minutes in November to 74 minutes in February. The American Civil Liberties Union and Juvenile Law Center sued the state in federal court over conditions at the juvenile prisons in 2017 on behalf of several youth inmates who challenged the use of solitary confinement and pepper spray. In a settlement reached in 2018, the Department of Corrections agreed to end the use of pepper spray within a year and to prohibit the use of solitary confinement for those who don’t pose a risk of causing imminent physical harm to others. The settlement included regular reports from the monitor to see how much progress was being made. The latest report is the ninth one she has submitted. (Wisconsin State Journal)


From a formerly incarcerated member: “Probation & Parole agents have good reason to believe they have more power than a court – a chief judge said so. Judge Jennifer R. Dorow is the chief judge of the 3rd Judicial Administrative District (Waukesha, Washington, Ozaukee, Jefferson, and Dodge Counties). She also chairs a criminal justice council (see attached council agenda). In open court, she said the Department of Corrections has “trump” power over the courts. This is particularly troublesome, coming from a chief judge. The separation of powers doctrine prohibits a court from “giving” power to an administrative agency over a sentence. Judge Dorow is either unaware of basic legal principles or is legislating from the bench. You may write to the judge and express concern over her alarming comment. If you do, please note case 2007CF496 and the 7/16/20 hearing on your correspondence for reference. Without citizen input, she may continue to “urge” the junior judges in her district to delegate the court’s authority to the DOC. You may express your concern to her at: Honorable Jennifer Dorow, Courthouse, 515 W. Moreland Blvd., Waukesha, WI 53188.”


(April 19) The Wisconsin-based Public Finance Authority (PFA) dropped out of the bond issue for an Alabama prison project Monday after the lead underwriter quit the deal. The exit of the PFA along with Barclays, the lead underwriter, and a secondary underwriter followed a campaign by critics of the Alabama project that targeted the authority as well as the underwriters. The bond issue was to finance a pair of privately owned prisons in the state. The authority had been designated to issue bonds underwritten by Barclays. Barclays withdrew as underwriter after the United Kingdom-based banking concern was ejected from the American Sustainable Business Council and its affiliate, the Social Venture Circle, according to Bloomberg News, which first reported the bank’s withdrawal from the transaction. The Alabama project entails the building of three new prisons, two of them to be built and owned by CoreCivic, a private prison company, which would lease the facilities to the state for 30 years at a cost of up to $3.2 billion according to some estimates. Both Barclays’ involvement and that of the PFA have been the focus of a campaign from investors and activists to reverse the deal. Two years ago Barclays said it would stop investing in the private prison industry, joining a number of other banks. Critics contend that Barclays’ role in the Alabama project contradicted that earlier pledge. (Source: Wisconsin Examiner)

(April 19) The U.S. Supreme Court rejected three appeals from people who lost their right to own a firearm when they were convicted of nonviolent crimes, in a fresh sign of the court’s reluctance to re-enter the national debate over gun rights. The justices on Monday left intact lower court decisions that said the three people — whose crimes included driving under the influence of alcohol, tax fraud and and smuggling — could be barred from owning guns without violating the Constitution’s Second Amendment. The court made no comment, turning away the cases as part of a list of orders. The rebuff comes the nation reels from a series of mass shootings and as a push for new gun restrictions intensifies across the country. (Source: Bloomberg)

(April 25) The New York state legislature has passed a bill that would automatically restore voting rights to those convicted of a felony upon their release from prison. Under the bill, people convicted of a felony would automatically have their voting rights restored when they are released from prison, even if they are still on parole. The state must notify the former inmate of this right. The bill is intended to improve on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) 2018 executive order, under which parolees could get a voting pardon and then register to vote on their own. Assembly Member Daniel O’Donnell (D), who sponsored the bill in the lower chamber, said in a statement that the vote brings the state closer to “dismantling the vestiges of segregation-era felony disenfranchisement.” (Source: The Hill)

(April 10) In an op-ed piece for the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, David Boehnke wrote: “Prison, I am told, is an exercise in someone killing your life. Over the last six years while working with those inside and their families, I have witnessed constant abuse, forced slave labor, diabetes causing food and prison health care making money, by not providing health care.I have witnessed the intentional isolation from community and the exorbitant charges assessed prisoners, people who have practically nothing and the weight of this on families, and children. There are better responses to felony violent crime then the slavery that is prison which only brings more violence, confusion, and despair. Common Justice is a pre-trial diversion program for felony violent crime in New York City— those charged with attempted murder or worse, do not qualify. Those who complete the two-year program—which nearly everyone does—get to stay out of prison. However, one can only enter the program if the person you physically hurt says yes. Ninety percent of victims choose the program, not prison, for their attacker. In Common Justice, both parties receive wrap-around services and the perpetrator repairs harm done as much as possible, and, over the two years, demonstrates that they are a person who will never commit that type of harm again.This is how we break cycles of violence and create safer communities.” (Source: MSR)