By Shannon Ross
I'll get right to the meat: Gov. Tony Evers and the Department of Corrections have far more than the two options they mentioned for releasing people.
They mentioned in a statement only Certain Earned Release and Special Action Parole, but they can also employ Community Residential Confinement (DOC Administrative Code 327.04, which allows them to let parole-eligible people finish their time at home, on community custody), Emergency removal (325.01), which allows release during an emergency, and leave (326) (which allows them to grant furloughs to "nonviolent" individuals for extended periods to facilitate family reintegration and stability).
They can talk to judges around the state about granting more sentence adjustments (two guys here with nonviolent crimes and histories were just denied, but get released within four months anyways). They can parole more people – many have somewhere to go and are set for release in the next year or two anyways, so what will it matter if they go home now after having served 20-30 years in prison?
Most of all, Evers can commute the sentences of everyone with less than a year left to serve on their sentences (or less than six months or four months or whatever he wants). One of my cellmates is doing 5 months on misdemeanors right now. Does it make ANY DAMN SENSE to not commute his sentence amid this pandemic?
The Certain Earned Release option he mentioned only applies to a smidgen of a crumb of a percentage of incarcerated people (I'd be shocked if it was more than .01%). Everyone else they mentioned releasing in press releases the last two weeks was from jails and Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility. They have effectively done nothing to address the potential danger in prisons.
Before I address Evers' and the DOC's repeated puffery about what they are doing to keep us "persons in their care" safe, let me applaud them on the one thing they have done right: the FAQ and the transparent, up-to-date COVID status pages on the DOC website. The public and our loved ones are able to see in real time (supposedly) how many staff and incarcerated people have been tested, how many tested positive and at what facilities, and how many are awaiting results. DOC and Evers could have done their typical suppression of info under the comically North Korea-esque guise of security reasons, but they have endeavored for sunshine instead. Thank you. But it pretty much ends there.
They keep saying they have a plan, but judging from my experience and the hundreds of emails from incarcerated people statewide that I get in my role as manager of the most-widely read anti-mass incarceration publication in the state (thecommunitywis.wixsite.com/home), they seem like an infant learning to walk. Yes, they are providing two free phone calls a week (which, by the way, with the usurious phone rates they charge, is like stealing someone's car then claiming to be a good guy because you let them use it for free two times a week).
But phone access has been curtailed at several facilities, especially where I am, and the calls commonly disconnect midway through (so much for a free 15-minute call when it hangs up on you within five minutes) and hardly anyone who was getting visits had problems with calling their loved ones in the first place (if you'll pony up $20-$50 for gas and snacks to visit someone in prison, you'll provide money so they can call you).
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