By Alexandria Staubach
The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the phenomenon of lonely deaths in nursing homes and hospitals, but such lonely deaths continue in the Wisconsin prison system even post-pandemic.
In the Wisconsin prison system, a terminal-illness diagnosis lands an imprisoned individual in Dodge Correctional Institution (DCI). While DCI principally serves as the reception center for all adult males entering the Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC) system, it also serves as the central medical unit for the male DOC population. It is where sentences begin and where life may end.
Removal to DCI for terminal-illness care breaks bonds of friendship between incarcerated individuals that formed over years or even decades.
“Once that person goes to DCI you know you may not ever see or talk to them again. You may not ever find out what happens to them,” said Roy Rogers, a former juvenile lifer in the Wisconsin prison system. (Rogers is now a data processor, a preentry and reentry liaison for The Community, and a WJI board member.)
WJI inquired whether DOC permits video or any other form of visitation between terminally ill incarcerated persons and their incarcerated friends.
“Wisconsin DOC has never allowed a person in our care to be on another person in our care’s visiting list,” John Beard, director of communications for the DOC, told WJI.
“Dodge Correctional Institution is one of our institutions which has trained certified peer specialists within the population. So, if an individual requests peer support, they would have access to another person in our care who is trained to provide that,” Beard said.
In other words, those who spend their last days as residents of the DCI infirmary have the companionship of staff or volunteers whom they do not know, but not of their friends from within the DOC.
While incarcerated individuals may receive visitation with friends and family who are not incarcerated, the relationships formed between incarcerated persons are often their main relationships, said Rogers.
Though in-person, peer-to-peer visitation among incarcerated individuals may not practically be feasible, DOC is equipped to and offers video visitation, according to its visitation policy. However, per Beard’s response to WJI, because the DOC does not permit persons in its care to be on each other’s visitation lists, the DOC does not permit video visits between individuals who are both incarcerated.
Nearly 20% of the U.S. prison population is older than age 50 according to June 2023 Federal Bureau of Prisons statistics. Of the 21,171 persons incarcerated in the DOC as of May 31, 2023, nearly 24% were older than 50, including 46 individuals 80 or older.
DCI’s infirmary unit holds 60 beds, with seven rooms dedicated to palliative care. According to the DOC, “a number” of incarcerated patients are residents of this infirmary. In June 2022 the oldest person incarcerated at DCI was 98 years old.
The infirmary unit provides care to patients who require 24-hour or subacute nursing care. The palliative care program provides “a valuable service to patients with terminal illnesses, providing comfort and symptom management, when release to the community is not possible,” according to DCI’s 2022 Annual Report.
By Gretchen Schuldt
The state's prison population is growing again after a long decline due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The number of adults incarcerated in state facilities declined to 19,381 on May 14, down significantly from the June 2019 level of almost 23,600 reported by the Wisconsin Policy Forum in its 2021-23 state budget brief.
At the height of the outbreak DOC basically closed its doors to new inmates, shoving the problem of housing them downstream to local jails. And courts shut down or dramatically reduced operations, which also reduced the flow of inmates to prison.
Then, this spring, prisons began accepting people again. The prison population ticked upward the week of May 21 and has increased every week since, according to Department of Corrections data. On Sept. 24, 20,132 people were incarcerated in the state's adult facilities.
Current inmate numbers are likely to increase further as courts resume normal operations and more people are sentenced.
Evers proposes $45.8 million for Milwaukee juvenile facility; DOC capital budget totals $119 million
By Gretchen Schuldt
Gov. Tony Evers is proposing to spend $45.8 million on a new juvenile facility in Milwaukee, budget documents show.
"The facility in this request will assist DOC (Department of Corrections) with working towards meeting the requirements of Act 185 and Act 8, which were created with the intent of eventually converting Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake Schools buildings into adult facilities," the proposed budget says.
Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake are the state's secure juvenile prisons.
The proposal is part of the proposed 2021-23 state capital budget. The governor recommended a total of $119.1 million in DOC capital spending.
Milwaukee County last year held off on accepting $15.2 million in state funding to develop a secure residential center for juvenile offenders because the funding was inadequate.
The county earlier sought $41.8 million from the state to increase the number of juvenile beds available. It later reduced the proposal to $26 million, and then $17.9 million. Even then, the county would have to kick in $2.7 million of its own funding.
At the time he rejected the $15.2 million, County Executive David Crowley said that the funding gap and continuing operational costs "creates significant sustainability concerns,” according to the BizTimes.
Crowley said Friday he was encouraged by the governor's general and capital budget proposals.
The proposed youth facility would be about 59,000 square feet with "housing, food services, health services, education, counseling, vocational training, visitation, recreation, administrative services, and other supporting spaces for a population up to 32 juveniles," according to the budget proposal.
It would employ about 70 people and cost $7.7 million per year to operate.
Evers also rejected a $45.4 million funding request for a juvenile facility in Outagamie County.
Other DOC capital spending recommended by Evers include the projects listed below.
$18.6 million for a new health services unit at Dodge Correctional Institution. Dodge is the prison system's intake facility and in fiscal 2019 there were 7,178 intakes; the prison's population is more than 1,600. Each new inmate requires a minimum of 3 HSU appointments, and some can require four to eight appointments.
The existing 12,300-square-foot facility "is very congested," the proposed budget says. "There are no medical observation cells or negative pressure rooms. There are several shared areas, such as the treatment room is shared with ER. There are staff doing data entry for electronic medical records in the X-ray room because there is no space for them."
The new HSU would add 36,558 square feet.
By Gretchen Schuldt
Gov. Tony Evers wants to expand expungement eligibility, do away with the plea-coercing charge of felony bail jumping, and legalize recreational marijuana.
Many of his justice-related proposals are almost certainly doomed in the Republican-controlled state Legislature. But they are alive and well right now, and some, such as establishing a council or commission to review the state's sentencing structure, may not even need legislative approval.
Here's a very quick look at some of his proposals. Most of the language is taken directly from the governor's budget narratives.
By Gretchen Schuldt
The cost to counties to incarcerate juveniles at the Lincoln Hills / Copper Lakes youth prison would soar almost 50% by June 2023 and hit an annual cost of $299,300, according to the Department of Corrections budget request submitted this week.
In a document largely of meaningful explanatory text, DOC justifies the requested increase in a single sentence: "Rates reflecting the cost of care in juvenile correctional institutions are set in statute and updated each biennium."
The request comes as an agreement to close the scandal-plagued Lincoln Hills/Copper Lake facilities is teetering.
Lincoln Hills is for boys; Copper Lake is for girls. As of Friday, there were 68 boys held at Lincoln Hills and four girls at Copper Lake, according to DOC population figures.
The state now charges counties $550 per day to house juvenile offenders at the secure facilities, the state's only juvenile prisons of their type. That amount is scheduled to increase to $615 per day on Jan. 1. The DOC's 2021-23 budget request seeks to increase that to $803 per day on July 1, 2021 and $820 per day on July 1, 2022.
That would increase the annual cost of holding a single juvenile at the facility from $200,750 at the current daily rate to $299,300, an increase of $98,500.
Overall, the department is seeking a budget hike of 4.5%, or $126.5 million over the biennium, from $2.8 billion to $2.92 billion, according to the budget request. The budget assumes an average daily incarcerated population of about 23,205 adults and 102 juveniles, according to budget documents.
The budget request also includes increases of:
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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