Story in a chart: State prison admissions tanked, releases held steady as virus emergencies declared
By Gretchen Schuldt
Admissions into state prisons all but stopped after the Department of Corrections announced last month that it would not accept new inmates from counties, while the numbers of incarcerated released rose and fell, but did not show any dramatic swings, DOC figures show.
The numbers also make clear that DOC has made little effort thus far to release additional inmates from prison during the coronavirus crisis, despite wide acknowledgement that jails and prison are breeding grounds for the virus and COVID-19, the potentially fatal disease it causes.
Evers announced on March 22 that state prisons would not accept new inmates, shifting to counties the burden of holding those not suitable for release.
He wasn't kidding. The number of inmates fell dramatically after the announcement, from 151 the week beginning March 15, to six the week beginning March 22.
Releases, meanwhile, peaked the week of March 29, when 294 people walked out of prison. A week earlier, however, just 169 inmates were released, the lowest total in the weeks considered.
Those incarcerated are frustrated with their conditions.
The testimonials below have been edited for length, clarity and to protect the writers' identities.
I know everyone in the community is dealing with this virus, and I don't feel like we are more important than any one of you by any means. But we are in the care of the system, we are at their mercy....I have no way of social distancing myself with 37 bunk beds crammed into one room 3 feet apart, with everyone sharing the same sinks, toilets, etc. If/when this virus reaches us, how will they take care of us? There are approx. 140 people between the 2 barracks here. We are sons, husbands, brothers, uncles, fathers (etc), and we MATTER! Please do what you can to bring our plight to someone who will do something about this situation BEFORE we become UNECCESSARY statistics! Take care of yourself and each other out there.
We are on a lockdown from our day rooms, visiting, and the barber shop. Otherwise I'm not sure I'd say we are on a lockdown. The gym crowded, the library crowded, outside rec super crowded, and workers...packed close together serving our food – no masks for them. We are social distancing at the dinner tables; only two allowed at a table while eating. Two at a table outside. But big groups walking together. Only seen maintenance workers and a few others like laundry get masks. But there's others working, no masks being given to them for their safety. Governor Tony Evers ordered stay-home-safe bill with social distancing. This don't help an over-populated and over-crowded prison system. The coronavirus is here....Now the question is what will be done to stop the spreading of coronavirus? Do inmates and prison systems have to obey the Governor's stay-at-home-safe bill to stop spreading of coronavirus by social distancing? Why are some prison systems down playing the dangers of the coronavirus by letting inmates pack into a gym, library, in...with no masks serving food? Why is not everyone given cloth masks...to slow down spreading of coronavirus? Everyone in China is wearing some kinda mask on their face even if its cloth masks. What ever to stop this from spreading.
So, while most of the staff here are decent, caring people, and do have to contend with some less than pleasant situations from time to time, the info. presented to you on the (DOC) website is a tad misleading....There is no social distancing being practiced "during dining" here. We sit four to a table in a day room that doubles as a dining room with 90-100 guys all eating at the same time. Myself and some others try to keep a cushion of 6 feet while in the chow line and otherwise, but...fill in the blank.
Furthermore, when you read that part about PPE's being made available to staff, you may get the impression that the staff are actually wearing these, but you'd be wrong. I have seen a couple of the teachers wearing masks, but that's it. The officers and other staff I see do not. I'm not sure what is promoting this "wait 'till it's here" mentality, but it just doesn't seem right. The ABC news this morning quoted someone @ (another prison) as saying they "don't know" how the three inmates who tested positive there became infected. You don't have to be a reporter to ascertain that it was most-likely transmitted by a staff member.
By Gretchen Schuldt
Advocates and medical experts around the country are urging prison officials to release low-risk incarcerated people from prison to stem the tide of the coronavirus, but prison populations in Wisconsin have declined just minimally, DOC figures show.
Wisconsin has experienced some success in reducing the number of people on community supervision who are locked up for one reason or another. That number dropped 39% in about a month.
The coronavirus crisis has been well-established in the public consciousness for more than a month. Gov. Tony Evers declared a public health emergency on March 13; he announced on March 22 that the State Department of Corrections would not accept inmate transfers from counties.
News about the dangers of coronavirus in prisons and jails specifically began appearing months ago; in January, the focus was on prisons in other countries, such as China; by early March, corrections officials in the United States were well aware of the dangers to incarcerated populations here.
Many court proceedings in the state have ground to a halt, meaning that fewer people are getting sentenced to prison, which should contribute to declines in prison populations.
The charts below tell the story. The source for the charts is DOC inmate population counts.
Men's prisons: No surprise that the maximum security male population has barely budged; after all, these are the men considered the greatest threats to public safety. But the declines in the populations of men considered to be of lesser risk also are minimal.
Contract beds: A decline of a whopping 20 people, and the Milwaukee County House of Correction accounts for more than half of that total. Meanwhile, the DOC is not accepting inmates from jails.
Other institutions: The number of people on community supervision who are in locked up has dropped significantly. The number of women serving prison sentences, though, has not dropped much, and the number in minimum security institutions has actually gone up by four.
By Gretchen Schuldt
The number of possession of marijuana cases filed in Milwaukee Municipal Court fell 17 percent from 2017 to 2018, court records show.
There were a total of 994 adult and juvenile possession of marijuana charges opened in 2017 and 824 in 2018, according to the figures. That is a year-to-year decline of 170 cases.
The caseload reflects police activity, but is not a total count of arrests, as some cases may get dismissed before they get to court.
In November, 75 percent of City of Milwaukee voters supported legalization of recreational marijuana. Some 52 cases were filed that month. In December, however, 134 cases were filed, the most since November, 2017.
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