By Gretchen Schuldt
The story of a state prison inmate's inability to keep a Bible because it cost more than $75 was the centerpiece of a successful effort to convince a Senate committee to recommend raising the value of personal goods that incarcerated people are allowed to have.
The current limit for personal property is $75, plus $350 for electronics and musical instruments. The bill would increase the amounts to $150 for personal property while maintaining the $350 electronics/instruments limit. Those limits were set in 1994 and have not been updated since, according to State Sen. Jesse James (R-Altoona), author of the bill, Senate Bill 21.
The low personal property limit left Craig Seefeldt, incarcerated at Kettle Moraine Correctional Institution, without a Bible after prison officials refused to let him have the one his mother bought for him. It was a study Bible, leather-bound with maps, footnotes, and cross-references and it was recommended by Craig Seefeldt's pastor.
The catch: The Bible cost $105, State Rep. Paul Tittl (R-Manitowoc) told the Senate's Judiciary and Public Safety Committee last month. Tittl is Assembly co-author of the measure.
Prison officials refused to let Seefeldt have the Bible. "Furthermore, instead of returning it back to the constituent, prison staff disposed of the Bible," Tittl said.
"At the end of the day, Wisconsin’s prison system should be about rehabilitation, reform, and justice," James told the committee. "Sadly, this is just another example of government failing to keep up with the times, and, as a result, denying inmates the ability to change and grow into better citizens."
Tittl said he discussed the issue with Department of Corrections Secretary Kevin Carr as far back as early 2019 "so you may have heard the department has been working on it. I have appreciated their efforts, but I think it’s time for us to step in and do the right thing."
Carr, in testimony, said DOC is working on revisions to the state Administrative Code to increase property value limits to align with the overall increased costs of living. Revising the code rather than enacting a statute "allows us greater flexibility for any future changes that may be needed," he said.
The committee unanimously endorsed the measure and the full Senate adopted it without a roll call. It is pending in the Assembly. The committee vote is shown below.
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