A Call for Accountability in the Department of Corrections

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.
a campaign to illuminate failures, share stories, offer
solutions and call for accountability at the DOC
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
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
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.
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
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
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
effectiveness and costs of the GPS monitoring
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
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