What does an effective and competent correctional system look like? For me to propose such a question would mean our current system is ineffective and run by incompetent "professionals", which couldn't possibly be the case under Wisconsin's current leadership, especially with Gov. Evers and DOC Sec. Carr at the helm. Since our governor and those responsible for running the DOC don't want to paint a better picture of what should be done and could be done, allow me to share a vision that taxpayers should be demanding. With our current prison population nearing twenty-five thousand, and our governor campaigning on a prison reform agenda to garner African American votes, I find it amazing how he still hasn't shared a real vision for how Wisconsin's prison system will be run in the 21st century. Our state is so far behind when it comes to corrections that it makes no sense, but here's what needs to be done immediately:
- Nonviolent offenders need to be released onto the bracelet that they
themselves would pay to be on.
- KMCI needs to be turned into a work-release center.
- RGCI, SCI, and NLCI need to be turned into program facilities.
- The 36 month ERP policy needs to be eliminated and the age limit for CIP
should be removed and changed to any inmate who is eligible for CIP who
can pass a physical.
- Implement earned media credit program for inmates pursuing their HSED/GED. (Inmates could earn media credits based on test scores and could use them to purchase canteen, email/phone credits, etc.; however, the program would have a six month window of opportunity, unless the inmate has a legitimate
learning disability, but upon completion, they would receive $200 in media credits for graduating.)
- The DOC needs to put in place a better ‘Bridge to Success’ plan (i.e., utilize
the tablets and laptops in conjunction with the MATC, UW, Gateway, and
other educational systems).
- The DOC needs to establish a 6 month preentry program (The Prisoner
GPS Initiative), that consists of a resource hub that would cover the basic
needs for all inmates to include: education, programming, job training,
jobs, clothing, transportation, food, housing, driver’s license, ID, insurance,
- Introduce mentorship programs in all DOC facilities, and mandate that inmates on work-release satisfy their program needs via onsite and/or off site services that they themselves pay for. Refusal to participate in programming would result in work-release privileges being suspended and/or revoked.
- Invest in more vocational trailers.
- Tax incentives need to be offered to companies in exchange for building
work-release centers and for providing the schooling, training, and jobs for
- Build two 150 bed juvenile facilities; one in Milwaukee Co. and one in
- Close down GBCI, WCI, and LHS.
- Provide communities with more resources to address counseling,
education, programming, housing, transportation, food, clothing,
financial literacy and debt-reduction programs, medical and dental
coverage, insurance, job training, jobs, and mentoring.
There’s obviously more that needs to be done, but this would help reduce the prison population, provide real rehabilitation and safety, and save taxpayers millions of dollars a year.
Here’s what happens when you come to prison in Wisconsin:
You go through Dodge (DCI), which is receiving and where you’re assessed to determine where you’ll go next. You’ll likely spend a few months waiting to be transferred, during which time you’ll just be sitting in a two-man wet cell with no access to school, programming, and a very limited opportunity to work. Most guys have already sat several months in the county jail prior, sometimes years, so this is just a phase of dread and uncertainties, which can do far more psychological harm than anything. Let’s say the inmate has a lengthy (15-30yr) sentence for armed robbery. He’d likely go to a maximum security prison, where he’d serve at least ten years or more, especially since they’d likely be ineligible for ERP/CIP. He’d likely have to do T4C, Anger Management, AODA, and let’s say DV, as well as get his HSED and a vocational. The average inmate takes six months or longer to get his HSED, often times years. There used to be more vocational programs offered, but many have been removed or there’s just no instructor to run them. So the inmate gets his HSED, works a job off and on, and might get a trade under his belt, yet the DOC won’t allow him to satisfy his programming needs until he’s within 1-2 years from MR (6 months for DV clients). Ten years in and now he goes to a medium. Same routine, different agenda. Now the inmate wants to go to minimum to get to work-release to make money. He might do a vocational or finally finish his HSED, as many don’t get it while in max. He tries to do programming and is told he’s on the wait list and PRC will tell him for years to just be patient and keep doing what you’re doing; playing cards, chess, basketball, and falling further having the rest of the world. Then one day when he has about two years or so left, they’ll recommend him for a secure minimum to go and do his programs. He’ll wait months to be transferred and then wait months to get into the program because they too have a waiting list. If, and it’s a big if, he gets to a minimum where he can work, it’ll only be for a short time; likely not enough time to pay off his debts and surely not enough time to save enough money to return to society financially stable. If he’s lucky, he was able to get his driver’s license, secure a job, and maybe find a place to stay, but the average inmate is released with much less than what is needed for them to make a successful transition back into the community.
Poor inmate, right? They choose a life of crime, therefore they choose prison and the uphill battle, so why should anyone else care whether they have what they need? Because everyone foots the bill and when the inmate lacks the skills, tools, resources, and support to return as a productive member of society, then they repeat the cycle and revictimize everyone all over again. Sure, we can say the majority of inmates are less than invested in their own future, but at the same time, we know the majority of inmates will be released, so whether we want them to change or they want to change, doesn’t matter if we don’t put in place a more effective system that provides the opportunities necessary for real growth and development. Change is inevitable, but growth, progress, Restorative Justice, whatever you want to call it, is a choice. Stop letting the people in positions of influence and authority, notice I didn’t use power, waste taxpayer dollars on ineffective practices while other states and countries continue to restore humanity under their leadership. Expect more, demand more, and go out and vote for those with real vision and leadership, because you have the power to decide your government, not the government. They are elected and appointed to serve the people, not themselves, or their parties, or some special interest group. As an American citizen we have a civic duty to participate in the political process. It’s an inherent power the forefathers expected us to exercise, yet we forget that people sacrificed their lives and freedoms so we could have a better life and a better government that serves us. Voting is not a luxury. Hoping for change is pointless when change happens regardless of whether we want it or not. We need to become the people we want to be and stop training others in our government to think we need them to lead us. A leader is not one person at all times, and we the people are the ones who decide what’s best for us, not a select few. Wake up and demand that Gov. Evers and those we hired to move our state forward provide a real vision that lives up to our states motto. Demand a real plan for overhauling the system and hold those responsible for executing it by exercising the power of your vote. No results, no votes! No votes, no job! It’s that simple and it’s time Wisconsin gets it right for once. Unless of course you’re satisfied with the status quo? If you can’t vote because you’re incarcerated or on probation or parole, get your friends, family, coworkers, enemies, whoever to perform their civic duty. It takes collaboration and civility to evolve a society, not complaining and victimhood. Provide inmates real opportunities to grow and together we can all grow; keep practicing 20th century corrections, and we’ll remain as strong and representative as our weakest link, in our current state of affairs that’d be the human you identify as a criminal, prisoner, offender, inmate, dare I say it, a lost cause! You have a choice and the power, what you do with it is up to you, just don’t be surprised what you end up with when you sit on the sidelines thinking you can’t make a difference when that’s the only way a difference has ever been made. PARTICIPATION!!!