A Call for Accountability in the Department of Corrections Brief Two: Failures in Revocation and GPS Monitoring On the heels of the successful and continuing The DOC is a large agency with multiple areas with 11X15 Campaign for Justice, WISDOM unveils one core mission: public safety. Our goal is the REFORM NOW, a campaign to illuminate failures, safe custody and supervision of offenders using share stories, offer solutions and call for account- the best, most effective correctional policies and ability at the DOC. procedures so citizens are protected, offenders The 11X15 campaign aims to reduce the state succeed in the community, and new crime and the prison population from 22,000 to 11,000 by 2015. cost of corrections to taxpayers is reduced. In fighting for this goal, WISDOM discovered a lack — Edward F. Wall, Secretary, Wisconsin Department of Corrections of accountability on issues such as parole, solitary confinement, revocation and compassionate release, among others. REFORM NOW will share data and information on these issues in briefs and The Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC) has at monthly press conferences from July through failed in its mission and goals. October, culminating in the release of a report on • Prisoners are being subjected to torture as defined the Department of Corrections in November 2014. under international standards. We acknowledge the dedicated efforts of many • Gravely ill and aging inmates are not being released. at the DOC. But as people committed to justice, • Lack of accountability has botched the parole system. • Decades of overcrowding put staff at risk and leave fiscal responsibility and public safety, we insist that Governor Walker use the authority granted by the people of Wisconsin to reform this cruel, unjust, taxpayers footing bills of more than $1 billion per year. inefficient and dangerous system NOW. REFORM NOW a campaign to illuminate failures, share stories, offer solutions and call for accountability at the DOC FAILURES IN REVOCATION AND GPS MONITORING The Problem “Revocation” of parole generally means that the Depart- are locked up again. Such draconian use of revocation is ment of Corrections has returned someone to prison for unjust, fiscally irresponsible and a threat to public safety. A recent report from the Council of State Governviolating one or more of the 25 to 45 (or more) rules of supervision. (Recidivism is the term used when someone ments has celebrated declines in recidivism (new crimes) has been convicted of a new crime and returned to pris- due to sending fewer people to prison on revocations.2 on.) Revocation currently accounts for more than 4,000 Other states have acted to reform their revocation sysof the new admissions to Wisconsin’s prisons each year.1 tem with promising results. Measures in Colorado, MinBreaking rules of supervision can include simple acts nesota, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maryland and South Dakota done without explicit prior agent permission, like buying have provided alternative sanctions to prison time for a cell phone or computer, accepting a job offer, walking rule violations and limited time served. Colorado saved into a bar to eat lunch, having a single beer at home, bor- $4.5 million in 2010 with its reforms; Louisiana’s policy rowing money, missing curfew by 16 minutes, missing a reform is expected to save that state $3.9 million.3 Unjust revocation is a particular problem with the scheduled parole meeting or stepping over a county line without permission. Former inmates who wear a GPS DOC’s GPS monitoring system. Under current law, the (global positioning system) bracelet can also be re-incar- Department of Corrections may put anyone on GPS cerated for repeated failures of the GPS technology, over supervision for a lifetime. It has been shown that this GPS system has a history of routinely sending out false which they have no control. alerts and failing to work at all if an A person who is revoked has no individual is in a concrete building, right to a judge, trial or jury to de- People are being revoked for what a church basement, various univertermine if the revocation is warmost of us take for granted: using a sity buildings or sometimes even if ranted, even if imprisonment may be for years or even a decade. It’s in cell phone or a computer. Or they are the person is at home in his or her kitchen. the hands of the DOC, with the only being revoked because of the state’s In a 2013 article, the Wisconsin recourse being a possible hearing investment in defective technology. Center for Investigative Journalism before an Administrative Law Judge reported that a DOC spokesperson who may allow 30–45 minutes to Revoking 4,000 people per year for said the department “has not auditlisten to a case before adopting the rule violations adds nothing to the ed performance of the (GPS) system” DOC’s recommendation. safety of our communities. since it began in 2007. The story also “People are being revoked for what — Rev. Jerry Hancock, of WISDOM said, “In 2007, a legislative study most of us take for granted: using a committee in Arizona measured the cell phone or a computer. Or they are being revoked because of the state’s investment in effectiveness of using GPS technology to track offenders. defective technology. Revoking 4,000 people per year for It found that the 140 offenders monitored that year exrule violations adds nothing to the safety of our commu- perienced a total of 35,601 false alerts, due to problems such as low batteries or signals lost in dead zones. The nities,” said Rev. Jerry Hancock, of WISDOM. Other than verbal warnings, the Department of Cor- study group found 463 confirmed violations, meaning rections rarely uses any other mid-level sanctions, such that false alerts outnumbered proven infractions by a as tightened curfew, weekend arrest, community service, 77–1 margin.” It is past time to reform the Wisconsin Department etc. Thus, a former inmate could be sent back to prison for 8 years for the malfunctioning of the DOC’s GPS sys- of Correction’s excessive and expensive revocation process and its deeply flawed GPS system that hinder justice, tem, at a taxpayer cost of $35,000 per year. Men and women lose their jobs, are denied good time waste taxpayer money, undermine true rehabilitation for the years they were doing well in the community, and and do little to uphold public safety. This voice from inside the prison walls is likely one of hundreds of similar stories of former inmates imprisoned — with no recourse — for rule violations, not for a new crime. H ector Cubero was 18 when he committed a crime with a group of men. A member of the group shot and killed a person who was being robbed. Hector was charged with being a party to armed robbery and party to first-degree murder. Too far away to see the shooter, Hector wouldn’t testify against him and was consequently sentenced to life in prison, plus 10 years, in 1981. Released on parole in 2008 after serving more than 27 years, Hector held a steady job in a restaurant, cared for his mother who needed transportation to doctor’s appointments, fell in love with Charlotte Mertins and got engaged. In the time he was out, he never had a Charlotte’s daughter with Hector parole was revoked, and he has been back in prison ever since. parole violation, never failed a drug test and never had “Before Hector was revoked, he was helping rehabili- a run-in with the law. tate abused dogs, caring for his mother and building Hector had become an accomplished amateur artist during his years in prison, and he went on to draw and sketch for others as a hobby. In 2012, a young man asked Hector if he would give him a tattoo. Hector strong relationships with his new family,” Charlotte said. “Since I’ve been with Hector, he has been nothing less than a kind and warm-hearted person. He’s always the first to lend a helping hand.” agreed. The young man was not 18 years old as he had There is no indication of when or if Hector might be re- claimed. His mother disapproved of the tattoo and leased from prison. The Department of Corrections will contacted Hector’s parole agent. In two days, Hector’s not allow Charlotte or her adult children to visit him. Wisconsin Taxpayers Need to Know If we conservatively assume the average prisoner sent back to prison for revocation costs $35,000 per year, then we can safely say it is costing Wisconsin taxpayers $140 million per year to incarcerate men and women on revocation alone.4 Money quickly adds up in the GPS arena, too. The 2010-budgeted costs for GPS at the DOC were $2,737,200, according to an email from the former director of sex offender programs at the department.5 According to a Center for Investigative Journalism story, Gov. Walker’s proposed budget recommended $10 million in new funding for GPS tracking in fiscal years 2014 and 2015.6 1 Council of State Governments Justice Center, Reducing Recidivism: States Deliver Results (New York: Council of State Governments Justice Center, 2014) 2 Council of State Governments Justice Center, Reducing Recidivism: States Deliver Results (New York: Council of State Governments Justice Center, 2014) 3 See Colorado HB 1360 from 2010; Hawaii SB 2776 from 2012; Louisiana HB 415 from 2011; Maryland HB 1174 from 2011; and South Dakota HB 1018 from 2011 4 See endnote 1; 4,000 sent back for revocations multiplied by $35,000 5 Email from Lance Wiersma, Director of Sex Offender Programs, Division of Community Corrections, Wisconsin DOC, to Matt Becker, 2011 6 Lost signals, disconnected lives, by Mario Koran, Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, March 2013 ACTIONS REQUIRED TO REFORM NOW Governor Walker must order the Wisconsin Department of Corrections to: Count time successfully served on parole or supervision as time served. Adopt a policy similar to Minnesota where offenders who violate technical conditions of supervision may participate in a sanctions conference in lieu of a formal revocation proceeding. No former inmate should be sent back to prison for a rules violation that does not involve a new crime. Implement an evidence-based set of graduated sanctions designed to help the person succeed. Create a system of incentives that rewards parole agents for the success of the former inmates under their supervision. Direct millions of dollars saved by reducing revocations toward finding jobs and housing for formerly incarcerated individuals. Order a complete audit of the operation, Partners in Calling for Action NAACP, Atty. James Hall, Milwaukee Branch President Prison Action Milwaukee (PAM), Dr. Rose Scott, Executive Director Wisconsin Council of Churches, Rev. Scott Anderson, Executive Director Wisconsin Reform Sex Offender Laws, Inc. For More Information David Liners, WISDOM, 414.736.2099, [email protected] Rev. Joseph Ellwanger, 414.791.2480, [email protected] Follow our Facebook page at “Wisdom for Justice” Follow us on Twitter @wisdomforjustice and #ReformWiscDOCNow effectiveness and costs of the GPS monitoring system. Establish a policy whereby individuals cannot be arrested, jailed or revoked for a mere failure of GPS signal or false alert until the DOC has proven it operates a highly effective GPS system. WISDOM, the Wisconsin affiliate of the Gamaliel Foundation, is a statewide network, including 10 congregation-based community organizations that work to live out their values regarding social justice in the world: MICAH Milwaukee County, RIC Racine County, CUSH Kenosha County, SOPHIA Waukesha County, JOSHUA Green Bay area, ESTHER Fox Valley, JONAH Eau Claire and Chippewa Valley, AMOS La Crosse area, NAOMI Wausau and North Central Wisconsin, MOSES Madison and RUTH Manitowoc County. Visit WISDOM’s website at http://prayforjusticeinwi.org.
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