Deteriorated living conditions in two of Wisconsin’s prisons have been in the news lately, with public protests outside of Waupun Correctional Institution (WCI), a rodent infestation at Green Bay Correctional Institution (GBCI), and reports on “modified movement” conditions (a sanitized way of saying "lockdown") at those facilities. Gov. Tony Evers recently visited WCI and on Nov. 14 said that the restrictive conditions there and at GBCI will be eased.
This fall, Wisconsin Justice Initiative launched a newsletter for men and women inside Wisconsin’s prisons. In response to WJI’s educational outreach, several individuals sent reports on the difficult conditions inside WCI, GBCI, and other facilities that have not garnered as much media attention. Below are some of these reports, from both before and after Evers' announcement, in the individuals’ own words.
Wisconsin Secure Program Facility (a/k/a Boscobel or Supermax)
Late November 2023
I want everybody to understand that some prisons around the State has been on modified movement since around 2020 when the pandemic took over the world. I was at Stanley at the time and saw what took place first hand.
Governor Tony Evers has set a plan in motion to allow Green Bay and Waupun to come off modified lock down. THAT IS A LIE. If you not allowed programs, school, visits, and recreation you are still lock down.
Please understand that the prisons are not just short staff but they are overcrowded. The Governor want to send hundreds of prisoners to other prisons around the State to make the situation there much worst. That is what you call kicking the can down the road.
Wisconsin prisons are for profit. Its big business. We have guards that is making $36 dollars a hour to work at max plus time & half which is another $18 that add up to $54 dollars a hour. Guess what they do? They pass food 3 times a day through a slot and sit around because we all are lock in 24 hour a day here at Boscobel. Now who is the crooks.
Wisconsin need real prison reform. We need something in place to make people want to do better because right now as it is people going to do what they want because they feel like they going to have to do 100% of their time anyways. Mean while a person that has done everything to stay out of trouble will go home behind the person who has done nothing but cause trouble while he or she been in prison.
Its time to get real about what is going on.
Late November 2023
I would like to let everybody know that DOC was not just short staff. They short doctors, nurses, mental health staff, Teachers, and many other people that work around the prisons. So when DOC gave correctional officers that huge pay raise these other places that was short staff got even shorter because now the lady that was processing complaints or working in the business office are now correctional officers. . . .
One last thing. I been at Boscobel 7 months. I have been feed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches everyday for breakfast and one dinner on the weekend. Where is the money?
Waupun Correctional Institution
Late November 2023
After discussing how seeing his family is his “go to” way to cope with incarceration, one man wrote:
For the past 8 months I have not been able to see my mother in any form whatsoever. The thing that means the most to me, the thing that has the most effect on me as a human being has been kept away from me these past 8 while this institution figures out its' "staffing shortages." They have enough staff where they can make license plates 5 days a week, but I can't see my family once in 8 months! Someone tell me how that makes an iota of sense? . . .
The second way in which I would normally cope with such extreme and traumatic stress is a bit more obtuse so again I ask that you bear with me on the explanation. That coping method would simply be to go get a haircut!
Now I know that for some people the notion of going to get a haircut ranks as a minute and mundane practice. But for many men like me it is so much more. I am a black man whom was born and raised in the inner city and like so many minorities across the nation going to the barbershop and getting a haircut is so much more than the particular act. The barbershop for most of us is a safe place. It is a place for fellowship and community. Hell going to the barbershop is the closest that a lot of minorities will ever get to going to group therapy! And I say that in all seriousness.
I learned this as a very young child, just how much the barbershop meant in my community. It was a place where men would come and literally as well as figuratively shed the parts of themselves that were dead and/or dying. Going to the barbershop and getting a haircut was more then getting a fresh cut. Each and every time a men, especially a black man emerges from that chair after a haircut it is akin to a rebirth. And after all that black men have to go through and are put through in this country we need to have this symbolic rebirth as much as possible. This is probably the reason why black men spend so much time in the barbershop. It is our safe place to just be.
But because of this lockdown I have not known this feeling for 8 months. I have not gotten a haircut for 8 months! And couple to this the fact that for this same 8 month period I have been allowed one shower maximum per week! I have had my hair fall out on two separate occasions. I have had to completely shave my head bald because the stress of this continued lockdown and the lack of offered hygienic avenues by way of showers and haircare/haircut caused my hair to just fall out all of a sudden in huge clumps! I am unable to articulate how unnerving it is to wake up one day and your hair just starts to fall out! And when I attempted to tell medical staff as well as security staff about this they treated it like it was nothing, like I was nothing. And this has been this way for 8 straight months, being treated like I am nothing...
Just to catch you up on some of the other line items in regards to institutional happenings as of late.
Late October 2023
The lockdown remains strong, with small, pathetic attempts by wci to pacify us sprinkled in every now and then. The news had stated that we are locked in 23 hrs a day. No. Not true. We are locked in 24/7. I get out of my cell once a week for 15 min to take a shower. That's it. Rec is offered almost every week for 45-60 min a week for those who stand for count and don't have nothing hanging from their bars. 1 hour a week for rec-if they have the staff. No school. No barber shop. No religious services since Mar, although they just sent a memo saying they're trying to start services for 20 ppl at a time in Nov. One warm tray a day, n that's only mon-fri. Bag lunches for breakfast n dinner 7 days a week for 7 months now. All meals in cells since I've been here-no chow hall. No visits. Zoom or in person since Mar 28th either. There r other issues, but these r directly related to lockdown.
Late October 2023
We have been on a seven going on eight month lockdown. We get NO rec, one shower a week, one change a clothes a week, no library, no visits either contact or video, no church services and peanut butter sandwiches ten times a week or more for just as long! The conditions are so bad here people are killing there self with many more attempts everyday! . . . I was first incarcerated at the age of 15 in adult institution. I've never been to juvenile corrections. I've always been a non violent criminal. . . . The justice system here in Wisconsin is so broken.
Stanley Correctional Institution
Late November 2023
Per multiple blue shirt correctional officers, they are being directed to start a program of harassment based on enforcing the rules that have been relaxed due to staff shortages. As stated they are to start writing tickets all minor issues as minor tickets are not able to be challenged like a major ticket is. This way many will be on cell confinement. New staff have not worked at anytime when the institution has run under regular movement. If anyone has people that can place complaints in the community about this place and the issues here it would be helpful. Upper staff, white shirts, via the warden are instituting an environment that will become more and more hostile by the day after the 27th. Officers have opined that the warden is pushing this agenda so he can yet again lock down the institution and have limited movement as soon as possible. . . .
. . . . The warden has even removed the hard copies of the current DAI/DOC policies so as to hinder our capability to formulate proper complaints and or make due process claims. When asked about policy's we are told to go look it up, hard to do when no hard copies are available to look at.
There is so much wrong with this place, staff are even allowed to keep their badges hidden from sight. The mantra heard regularly from staff is “This is Stanley, we do things different”!
Green Bay Correctional Institution
Early November 2023
I am writing to report on a number of conditions of confinement issues inside the prison. They include, but are not limited to, the following:
Jackson Correctional Institution
Early November 2023
Jackson Correctional Institution has an inmate population that exceeds its general population capacity. The only way JCI can house its current population is by utilizing the segregation housing at near max capacity ALL THE TIME. This has led to a need for inflating segregation conefinement times for even relatively minor violations, a high number of false positive drug testing results due to misuse of their "drug sniffer" machines, the blockading of follow-up outside lab testing of positive tests, and a number of other suspect "violations" being written. If the segregation unit were emptied, there would be no place to house the inmates there.
Note: Wisconsin is one of just three states (Georgia and Texas are the others) in which 17-year-olds are automatically treated as adults for purposes of criminal charges. The other 47 states process charges against 17-year-olds within the juvenile justice system. Wisconsin Justice Initiative has joined the Raise the Age Coalition, advocating for legislation to return Wisconsin's 17-year-olds to juvenile court.
By Roy Rogers
Outside of the brain development research that counsels against treating 17-year-olds as adults, placing them in an adult setting is unhealthy and borders on benign cruelty.
For these 17-year-olds, and those even younger, treating them like adults and keeping them in the adult system, together with more sophisticated adult criminals in the facilities, could, can, and has led to increased criminality in the institutional settings. At times they are forced to partake in activities that are harmful for them, due to the strong pressure from mob mentality and older incarcerated people.
You increase the likelihood of assaults and trauma and aggravate mental health issues, which a lot of young people are dealing with when they enter into the correctional system.
People sometimes have the misconception that the young person will have access to more treatment resources in the adult facilities, but that is not the case. More than likely, 17-year-olds going into the adult system have lengthy sentences. With long incarceration times, the likelihood of getting them involved in any treatment programs is thin. The institution will consider them too early in their sentence structure for programming treatment. In modern correctional wisdom, programming and treatment are provided to those who are about to return to the community within the next year or two, five years at the most.
Accountability and treatment in a setting conducive to healing and restoration are what 17-year-olds need — not to be placed in a problem-plagued adult system that is not getting better anytime soon.
I knew a few 17-year-olds who were treated as adults after having been waived into adult court. There were some commonalities in their incarcerated experience:
These scenarios become even more glaring if a youth is a part of the LGBTQ community. In the hypersexual prison settings, trauma for these youth will come from both ends — staff and fellow incarcerated people, some out of ignorance and some out of intention. Why put any 17-year-old through that?
We know adolescents make bad decisions; that’s no secret. And yes, sometimes those bad decisions have great consequences in our community and accountability is a must. However, accountability is also about having the opportunity to make amends. Placing a 17-year-old in the adult system actually closes the door on the meaningful opportunity to make amends. The adult system is not set up for that in any shape or form.
If the youth is kept within the juvenile system, programming and a wide variety of treatment options are available. A package of community service, community counseling, community accountability, and community engagement can all be put in place for the eventual restoration of these youth back into the community.
I, too, was once a 17-year-old in the adult system. So I bear witness and have first-hand knowledge of everything I speak of. In the field of macroeconomics, we talk a lot about marginal analysis in which we compare marginal benefits against marginal costs in our economic decisions. So from my economic perspective, when the marginal costs outweigh the marginal benefits, it is a bad decision.
The marginal costs of placing 17-year-olds in the adult system outweigh whatever marginal benefits policymakers think will occur. Such a decision can cost children their lives. It can cost them through the inability to recover from the traumas of being a child in an adult prison. Plus, the potential for them to be trapped in the cycle of incarceration increases dramatically. The humanitarian cost outweighs any economic benefit one may gain by treating these 17-year-olds like adults. Treating these juveniles as adults is a bad decision.
Roy Rogers is a Wisconsin Justice Initiative board member. He is a data solutions processor at Quad Data Solutions and a preentry and reentry liaison and information analyst for the nonprofit organization The Community. He also is a public speaker and advocate with the Wisconsin Alliance for Youth Justice.
Rogers committed himself to juvenile justice issues while serving 28 years as a juvenile lifer in the Wisconsin prison system. Now, after release, he counsels and mentors at-risk youth. He is committed to the philosophy of restorative justice, criminal justice reform, and second-chance opportunities for juveniles waived into adult court and sentenced as adults.
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.
Kenneth Gray was at a house where he sold cocaine when he took a silver gun from his pocket, pulled the trigger once, and killed a man.
It was Dec. 30, 1995. Gray was 14 years old.
The victim was an adult drug dealer angry that young Gray was working in a Milwaukee neighborhood the man considered his own.
Gray, still in prison, now is 40. He has been incarcerated for almost twice as many years as he was alive when he committed his crime. His 30-year sentence ends in 2026. He is hoping to be paroled before then.
Here is what then-Assistant District Attorney Carol Kraft said in 1996 at Gray's sentencing for first-degree reckless homicide. Gray was 15.
He, up until he became involved in the drug trafficking...by all the information that I had, wasn't the type of child who had involved himself in these kind of activities and who would have been expected or – I guess one would have predicted to become involved in the events that occurred that day....
Unlike so many people we see, who at the age he came to the criminal justice system have long rap sheets, have many contacts with the police, Mr. Gray was not one of those people. Mr. Gray also doesn't appear to have come from a family where this would have been expected. And I'm sure that this is probably difficult for his mother who has supported him through this as anyone.
Gray's prison life hasn't been smooth. He's had dozens of disciplinary infractions, some of them serious. He's been transferred back and forth between institutions. But now, he says, he wants to get out and go to college, maybe get his pilot's license. He likes to write, and he wrote about his experiences for WJI. He talks about his mandatory release date in the piece below. That is a presumptive parole date that come two-thirds of the way through a prison sentence. The Department of Corrections, however, can decide to keep a person in its care beyond that date.
By Kenneth Gray
Here I sit, 4½ years past my mandatory release date (19 July 2016). This is after I've served 22 years of a 30-year sentence that was given to me at the age of 15 years old.
The judge forecast I'd be released early, before 20-year mark MR set by legislation, based upon overcrowdedness of the prison as well as my age. However, the Wisconsin Parole Commission has had other ideas.
When I was first locked up, after juvie and being waived into adult court, I was sent back to Juvie Hall because I was too young to be shipped to the Big House. There I spent 10 months in segregation because by law I was an "adult," yet couldn't be in the general population with other adults. Once I turned sweet 16, off to prison I went.
I have committed 'violations of trust' against the community, its people, and my family with utter disregard for any consequence.
And for that reason I'm on this bus, with this seeming only one-way ticket to prison. There were four of us all under the age of 21. We all possessed a certain level of trepidation. We were "fresh meat," first-timers like me. Others had small stints in juvie for a couple months, but this trip here we all "kissed the baby."
By Gretchen Schuldt
The number of COVID-19 cases reported in Wisconsin state prisons soared by 1,033 cases last week, the biggest one-week increase since the outbreak began, Department of Corrections figures show.
The total number of cases reported rose from 3,296 on Oct. 23 to 4,329 on Friday, Oct. 30, a 31% jump, the figures show.
Five prisons reported more than 100 additional cases in a single week. Those prisons were Waupun, Stanley, Jackson, Dodge, and Green Bay Correctional Institutions.
Four facilities, including Taycheedah Correctional Institution, the state's major women's prison, reported their first cases. The other three were McNaughton Correctional Center, Racine Youthful Offender Correctional Facility, and the Thompson Correctional Center.
Just seven of DOC's 37 facilities did not report any COVID cases as of Friday. They are the Flambeau Correctional Center, The Grow Academy (juvenile), Kenosha Correctional Center, Oregon Correctional Center, Prairie du Chien Correctional Institution, Sanger B. Powers Correctional Center, and the Wisconsin Secure Program Facility.
The Kettle Moraine Correctional Institution has the most total cases reported overall – 872 – but reported no new cases last week.
Gov. Tony Evers has been sharply criticized by advocates for his failure to his powers as governor to release low-risk offenders during the pandemic.
Facilities reporting increases in COVID-19 cases
By Gretchen Schuldt
The number of positive coronavirus cases among people incarcerated in state prisons jumped by 662 last week, the largest one-week increase since those cases began to surge in August.
There were a cumulative total of 2,274 coronavirus-positive tests in as of Friday, a 41% increase from the 1,612 cumulative cases reported just a week earlier.
Facilities reporting increases in COVID last week are below. The first column shows the total number of cases reported as of Oct. 2 and the second column shows the total cases reported as of Oct. 9. The final column shows the one-week change.
The figures show there is a growing outbreak at Oshkosh Correctional Institution and another potential outbreak at Columbia Correctional Institution. Outbreaks continued at Kettle Moraine and Dodge Correctional Institutions.
Prisons reporting increases in COVID cases during the week ending Oct. 9
Gov. Tony Evers has fallen conspicuously silent on the issue of coronavirus infections among incarcerated people and staff – 577 prison staff members have tested positive and has done little to reduce prison crowding, which makes the coronavirus more likely to spread. Adult prisons are about 19% over design capacity.
In July, WISDOM, a state social justice organization, called on Evers to take specific steps to reduce crowding.
About 40% of people incarcerated at the Kettle Moraine Correctional Institution had active coronavirus cases as of Monday, according to Department of Corrections figures.
There were 437 active cases in the prisons' inmate population of 1,104 as of Friday.
The Oshkosh Correctional Institution reports another major outbreak with 341 active cases, according to the figures. The prison population was 1,964 on Friday, so about 17% of the inmate population had active coronavirus cases.
Overall, there have been 1,612 positive coronavirus tests in state prisons since the beginning of the pandemic. Those figures include 560 positive tests at Kettle Moraine and 360 at Oshkosh, the two highest numbers in the prison system. Some people who were ill have recovered. Some are no longer in prison.
Both Kettle Moraine and Oshkosh are medium security and both are significantly overcrowded.
"There are so many infected they have no clue what to do," an Oshkosh inmate wrote.
Gov. Tony Evers has significant power to reduce prison crowding, but has not used it.
By Gretchen Schuldt
Updated 9/20/2020 to include a response from the Department of Corrections.
As the number of COVID-19 cases in state prisons soars past 1,000, the Department of Corrections has begun requiring incarcerated people to pay for the masks used to slow the spread of the disease, according to inmates and their loved ones.
"We here...have been informed that...we will be required to purchase our own face masks, that the DOC will no longer provide them and certainly not for free," one inmate wrote. "We will now be required to purchase a single mask for $2.50 (an allegedly one size fits all)."
DOC confirmed the purchase plan for those wanting or needing more than three masks.
The agency has provided at least three washable masks to each incarcerated person since April, a DOC spokesperson said in an email.
"There is a plan to offer extra cotton face coverings available for purchase, if those in our care want more than the three," said the spokesperson, who did not identify himself or herself.
"But there will be a limit of seven. These could be purchased by those in our care, or family members could purchase for them."
Some 1,053 prison inmates and 81 staff members had tested positive for the coronavirus as of Friday.
While $2.50 may not sound like much, some inmates simply have no money, others have financial obligations such as victim restitution or court surcharges, and others have extremely low-paying prison jobs.
"Nothing in this policy makes any provision, that I am aware of, for the many prisoners who are indigent and unable to purchase these masks (of whom their are many),"the inmate wrote.
"The mask must be purchased from the 'approved vendors'...all of which are notorious for hugely marking up the prices of all of its products...." the inmate said.
Another inmate said, as have others, that his institution is not removing from the general population incarcerated people who test positive for coronavirus.
The inmate said a nurse told him not to worry about getting tested because "staff was not moving anyone that tests positive. I'm like, 'WHAT!' I said 'Well then, if you're not going to keep inmates that have tested positive separated from the inmates that aren't sick, what is the purpose for all the testing?!' She said, 'I don't know!'"
By Gretchen Schuldt
The number of positive coronavirus cases continues to surge in Wisconsin state prisons and on Friday was up 70% since Aug. 21, when case numbers started their steep climb.
There were 907 positive coronavirus cases in the prison system as of Friday, Sept. 11, up 373 since Aug. 21, when there were 534 cases.
The number Friday was up 75, or 9%, from a week earlier, when there were 832 recorded cases, according to Department of Corrections figures. The biggest one-week increases were at Dodge Correctional Institution (up 39, to 119) and Racine Correctional Institution (up 25, to 109).
There also have been 244 positive coronavirus cases of DOC staff members.
David Liners, state director of WISDOM, a state social justice organization, urged members of the public Monday to contact their legislators about the crisis.
"Help us get the governor's attention," he said in an email.
WISDOM in July recommended that Gov. Tony Evers take several actions to reduce prison populations including:
"As of Sept. 14, he has not done anything," Liners wrote. "He has not even made a single public statement of his concern."
Meanwhile, a person incarcerated in a facility with an outbreak attributed it, at least in part, to a coronavirus-infected person who was transferred there.
"He was not tested prior to being moved here..." the inmate wrote. "He has been on this unit infecting people. This young man was asymptomatic. Last night they moved the young man back to...quarantine. However, the man the kid was in with was not placed on quarantine. He was left on the unit to possibly infect more people here...."
He continued: "There is no further testing going to be done. The HSU (Health Services Unit) is doing temperature checks and asking if the person is experiencing symptoms. So if the inmate does not-self report because he doesn't want to go to quarantine, there is no way for them to know in a timely manner and in the case of the young man, who was asymptomatic, the temperature checks would not have revealed anything. So the long and short of it is that there is no way they can stop the spread with the current level of 'health' care the prison is providing."
WJI is not naming the institution to protect the identities of the writer.
Institutions still reporting no cases are Copper Lake/Lincoln Hills School, Flambeau Correctional Center, Fox Lake Correctional Institution, Grow Academy, John C. Burke Correctional Center, Kettle Moraine Correctional Institution, McNaughton Correctional Center, Oakhill Correctional Institution, Oshkosh Correctional Institution, Prairie du Chien Correctional Institution, Robert E. Ellsworth Correctional Center, Sanger B. Powers Correctional Center, Stanley Correctional Institution, Taycheedah Correctional Institution, Thompson Correctional Center, Winnebago Correctional Center, and Wisconsin Secure Program Facility.
Help WJI advocate for justice in Wisconsin