Part IX: The time to implement large-scale Community Residential Confinement in Wisconsin is NOW
By Dylan 4/28 (Oregon Correctional Center, Oregon, WI)
Prisons all across Wisconsin are overcrowded; some people are waiting months to be transferred to lower security institutions after already working for years to be granted the opportunity from PRC. Being in prison during a crisis such as this is literally forcing all inmates to expose themselves to a virus that could kill them. No matter what precautions these prisons take, short of completely locking down and isolating the prisons by not allowing staff to leave and denying any kind of delivery, eventually the inmate population will be exposed, and the prisons are definitely not equipped for total medical isolation on the scale of which would be needed. So in a nutshell and in layman terms, inmates are screwed. But in truth, not all of them have to be.
The WCCS, the system of minimum work release centers in Wisconsin, are full of people who have proven that they can follow rules that are by far more rigorous, restrictive, and numerous than any form of environment found outside of prison. They are deemed to be so nonthreatening that they have been granted transfer to centers that do not even have a fence and are allowed to go to work in the community, some in workplaces that employ women, teenaged children, and people with mental disabilities (Opportunities factory in Fort Atkinson). But these people are still living under the same conditions as this rest of the DOC, sitting around and waiting to be exposed to this virus and possibly be lamed or even die. One would think that people in such a position could be sent home, without any real grumbling from anybody, because they are ALREADY productive members of society who were going to work and paying taxes while interacting with civilians on a daily basis. But no, they’re just as stuck as somebody sitting in a maximum-security prison. They’re not even leaving these centers that they could walk away from so easily. They are sitting like ducks in a pond and hoping, wishing, that some change will come about that will allow them to rejoin their loved ones. Well, that just may be possible.
Wisconsin Administrative Code 327 Community Residential Confinement (CRC) is a policy that was established in 1990 to allow minimum custody inmates to be released on electronic monitoring (EM). One of the requirements to receive it is that you need to be eligible for parole, but in 2000, under Truth in Sentencing (TIS), the term “parole” was abandoned in favor of the term “extended supervision” (ES). For twenty years, the Wisconsin DOC has been using the conflict of those two terms as a technical basis to deny people CRC. Because of one word being interpreted so literally, people are stuck in these centers, literally possibly waiting to die, when they could be at home on EM. Like I said, prisons all across Wisconsin are overcrowded; some people are waiting months to be transferred to lower security institutions, and the DOC is not utilizing the entirety of its resources in regards to housing.
In a state that’s so notorious for its love of incarceration as a means of financial gain, you would think that they would seize an opportunity to confine people in their own homes while charging them for the privilege. The bracelets needed for this program are there, and manufacture of more is easy and relatively inexpensive. The departments to run the EM system are there, already active, because Huber dorms all over the state are utilizing the same exact system (so why not the DOC??). Everything that is needed to implement CRC is right there in front of our faces, ready to go. The people currently stuck in these centers could go home and back to work and start paying EM fees, which would begin to make up for the current lack of revenue due to the fact that work release in the minimum custody centers has been indefinitely suspended, so the state is not receiving any money from charging inmates for room and board (RnB). Additionally, the state would no longer need to clothe, feed, educate, or house them and wouldn’t have to provide healthcare, dental care, psychiatric care, or medications. There is no overhead to confining individuals in their own homes.
Of course, there will be people, civilians and politicians, that will claim that releasing these people will pose a risk and a threat to the public, but I would ask them to consider this: here at OCC, there is no fence around the premises. If any one of these people wanted to, they could walk out and escape and would not even be missed for potentially hours. If the same people are on EM and decide to leave their assigned areas, law enforcement is IMMEDIATELY notified the very second that someone steps out of bounds or tampers with the equipment. With that in mind, wouldn’t the public be safer and more secure with these people at home on EM?
Let’s talk about financial issues for a moment. I am currently incarcerated at Oregon Correctional Center (OCC). On average, 80 of the 123 inmates housed here are going to work and paying $740 a month for room and board, totaling $59,200 monthly and $710,400 annually. (From here on, I use hypothetical numbers which I think are on the lowball end of estimation.) If CRC is implemented, this center could increase its roster to 300 inmates, with 180 of them on EM, and if they are charged $500 a month, that is $90,000 monthly, $1,080,000 annually, for a combined total of $1,790,400 annually, just from ONE of the centers. That’s 1.8 million that could go towards education, roads, healthcare, and the current pandemic.
On top of all of this, there’s the political standpoint to consider as well. One of the strongest running points of Governor Evers’ campaign was the desire to release 50% of the prison population, but he has done next to nothing in this matter, supposedly because of a lack of bipartisan cooperation. If CRC is implemented, he would be able to begin fulfilling his promise. More beds would open in the minimum centers, so more people from medium institutions could fill them, and people from the maximum security could fill those in mediums; thus, the issue of overcrowding is alleviated while the state collects millions of dollars in EM fees.
In summary, this policy is THERE; it is ACTIVE. All that needs to be addressed for it to work is for the requirement of parole eligibility to be changed, or even for the DOC to interpret the word “parole” in this context as simply a term that means “supervision.” If CRC is implemented, Evers gets to fulfill his promise by “releasing” inmates while still having them technically considered inmates, so he’s happy. The inmates get to go home on EM and are not forced to be exposed to a deadly and dangerous virus, so they’re happy. Millions of dollars in revenue will be generated, so everybody is happy about that. This would literally be a win for all parties involved, not to mention the fact that the state will no longer be liable for any deaths or damages accrued from any infections of the virus if these people are at home because, short of complete lockdown and isolation, there is no way to stop this virus from eventually reaching every inmate in the DOC, and when this virus infects them in the hundreds and the thousands, do you really think that they will receive the urgent care they will need or the ventilators that will keep them alive? As a man who witnessed firsthand a man die on the floor after requesting emergency medical attention, I am doubtful. Thousands of lives are at stake here. Is anyone going to do anything about it or not?