Wisconsin activists demand an end to inhumane conditions in correctional facilities
Madison, WI – On Tuesday, October 10, nearly 100 concerned Wisconsinites came together in Madison, joining Wisdom Wisconsin, a non-profit organization bridging the faith community with prison reform efforts, in order to demand an end to inhumane lockdowns that have been enforced in correctional facilities across the entire state.
National attention has focused on the deplorable conditions inside the Waupun Correctional Institution, which has had two deaths since a lockdown began in March. During the lockdown, the incarcerated population has been locked inside their cells for 23 to 24 hours per day, in-person visitations have been canceled, and showers have been reduced to one per week.
Pastor Joseph Jackson of Milwaukee Inner-city Congregations Allied for Hope (MICAH) said, “The conditions inside the jails and prisons in the state are immoral, inhumane, unjust and unacceptable.”
The people incarcerated inside correctional facilities across Wisconsin are demanding improved conditions, such as a minimum of one hour per day for recreational activities, two free phone calls separate from the one hour for recreation, video calls, in-person visitations, restored access to libraries, and a minimum of three showers per week.
Eugene Nelson of Project Return, an organization addressing the high rate of recidivism in Milwaukee, spoke about the need to end “crimeless revocation” of probation. As Nelson said, “They tried to send me back to prison for cutting hair. I received my state certification in barbering and cosmetology at the Green Bay Correctional Institution.” Crimeless revocation is one of the main driving forces behind the increased incarceration rates in Wisconsin.
Many of the speakers challenged elected officials to take action on these demands and pass legislation that would prevent further deaths inside prisons and jails and treat the people housed in the facilities with dignity. After the press conference, many in attendance split by districts in order to speak with their assigned representatives. Members of the Milwaukee Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression accompanied Kerrie Hirte, mother of Cilivea Thyrion who died inside the Milwaukee County Jail, to speak with the office of Michael Shraa, chair of the Committee on Corrections.
The particular conditions inside the Milwaukee County Jail are part of a more general trend across the state, and elected officials must take action. Hirte lost her only child, and there were many others in attendance at the event who have also lost or feared losing a loved one currently in the system. The conditions in Waupun, Green Bay, and Milwaukee aren’t the result of staffing issues or budgeting shortages. The narratives elected officials promote around staffing shortages in jails and prisons and crime obfuscate how the decades of increased public spending on law enforcement and corrections have diminished public services that could actually keep people out of these institutions. As the people in attendance at the event explained, elected officials need to get creative in how they respond to these issues rather than simply throw more money at the problem.