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Urgent ACTION Alert from WISDOM

Please choose one point below and call your WI State Senator and Assembly Rep, immediately! Leave them a phone message overnight. Let's fill those voicemails and create a buzz about this important issue. Find the phone numbers here:

"I am a constituent and urge you NOT to support SB 230/AB 237 because... ... As a person of faith and member of WISDOM, I value human dignity, forgiveness, and an opportunity for re-integration of a wrong-doer back into the community.


In Opposition to SB 230/AB 237

A recent batch of Republican proposals is seeking to make Wisconsin criminal law ever more punitive and vastly more expensive, even proposing procedures that research has shown to be useless for public safety. The worst of these is SB 230/AB 237. This bill requires an individual potentially being released from prison by the Department of Corrections to first submit to a psychological evaluation which must then be considered by the Parole Board or reviewing authority prior to release. This proposal has multiple problems.

The inability of mental health professionals to predict violent tendencies has been confirmed by two leading organizations in the field, the American Psychological Association, and the American Psychiatric Association. Studies indicate that medical knowledge has not yet advanced to the point where long-term predictions of future dangerousness can be made with a reasonable degree of medical certainty (See Brief Amicus Curiae for the American Psychiatric Association, Supporting Defendant-Appellant, U.S. v. Fields, 483 F.3rd313 2005).

Instead of relying on the judgement and recommendations of DOC and the Parole Commission, one psychologist (who may have very limited experience evaluating criminal dangerousness) may impose multiple additional years of incarceration on an individual by reviewing a bundle of outdated papers. It is likely that such a process is a constitutional violation of due process.

A psychological evaluation used as a “risk assessment” tool, will further dehumanize those who are statutorily eligible for release. There is a large body of data regarding the use of an algorithm to determine the “statistical risk” of a person reoffending (based for example on past criminal history, job history, family, education, residence, etc.), but not their “actual” risk. These assessments claim to be evidence based, but are often inaccurate and fraught with racial and class bias. Research shows that with regard to accuracy, predictions of future violence were wrong two thirds of the time. (Morris, 1974). Other research concludes that on average, the positive violence predictions of the leading risk assessment instruments are correct 42% of the time. (Fazel et al, 2012)

Risk assessments allow for continuation of racism inherent in the creators and users of the tools, for example, that low-income Black, Hispanic or indigenous men are inherently dangerous. This bill’s new attempt to reduce complex human individuals into a package of statistics denies their dignity and individuality.

Then, there are the costs. Based on the number of affected people who were released from prison in 2022, DOC’s Fiscal Estimate is that they would have to hire up to 25 full-time employees at a cost ranging from $4,295,000 to $13,000,000 at the high end. On top of the expense, it is highly unlikely DOC could find enough licensed psychologists to hire. DOC’s current vacancy rate for “psychological services” is 26%, indicating a current need to hire 49 FTE’s, in addition to the 2-25 positions required for this bill. This hiring search could cause hundreds of individuals to be unnecessarily held in prison for years while DOC is searching for licensed psychologists to perform evaluations since prisons are not desirable workplaces.

The Co-Sponsorship Memorandum to SB230 explicitly acknowledges that it was inspired by the murder of Johanna Balsewicz by her husband who had only served 25 years in prison when parole was proposed. Several punitive bills arose out of the outrage of this family. However, law based on one sympathetic person or family is rarely good law. It is magical thinking to believe that a psychological evaluation of thousands of people is the solution to domestic violence. Rather, it would be a costly, ineffective and likely impossible system of governmental over-reach. Instead, we should recognize the humanity of individuals who have served their time and want to rejoin their communities.

In addition, SB 230 specifies that a police chief or sheriff may disseminate the DOC notice about an individual released from prison to the general public if, in the opinion of the chief or sheriff, providing that information is necessary to protect the public. Do we really want every person placed on parole or extended supervision, and his family, to lose their dignity and privacy in this way? How will they ever start a new life?

All faith traditions support a tradition of respecting human dignity, forgiveness, and an opportunity for re-integration of a wrong-doer back into the community. Wisconsin ought to do the same.


WISDOM - 2821 N Vel Phillips Avenue, #217 Milwaukee, WI 53212 United States



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