By Gretchen Schuldt
The decline in the state's population slowed markedly in the past two weeks as the state started accepting new inmates from counties, a practice it suspended March 23 in an effort to block the importation of the coronavirus into state prisons, according to state figures.
The state started accepting inmates again on June 1.
Because of the crowded conditions in prisons, they are considered prime sites for COVID-19 spread.
The Wisconsin prison population declined by just 66 inmates during the week ending June 5 and 106 during the week ending Friday, according to the Department of Corrections. The last time the prison population decline was anywhere near that small was during the week ending March 27, when it dropped by 109 people.
The overall prison population fell from 23,256 on March 6, the week before Gov. Tony Evers declared a coronavirus-related state of emergency, to 21,548 Friday, a decline of 7%.
David Liners, state director of WISDOM, a justice organization, said Evers is not doing enough to reduce the risk to incarcerated people.
"The governor once claimed he wanted to cut the prison population in half," Liners said. "At the moment when it is most urgent to use the powers unique to his office, he has failed by refusing to act."
WISDOM is organizing a "Drive to Decarcerate" caravan to Madison on Thursday. People interested in participating can learn more and sign up here.
Evers "has received warnings from the public health community," Liners said in a prepared statement. "He has gotten assurances that his power to commute sentences cannot be overturned by the legislature. He knows that there are many, many people in our prisons who are a very low risk to public safety, but who are at great risk of serious illness or death if they remain in overcrowded prisons. He knows that the virus has already begun to sweep through some of the prisons, among both incarcerated people and staff. Still, he has chosen to do nothing, and not to even address the issue."
Not included in those figures are the number of people incarcerated for reasons related to alleged violations of community supervision. There were 338 of those people locked up as of Friday. That is up 23 from the low of 315 in the weeks ending May 15 and May 22.
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