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Wisconsin - Let's Close Some Prisons and Reinvest the Savings in People

Dear WISDOM Action Network Friends,

This past week, the New York Times published a significant piece that was picked up by Milwaukee and Madison newspapers as well. You can read it here through the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

It concerns the agonizing months-long lockdown that occurred at the Waupun Correctional Institution. Since June, people at Green Bay's penitentiary have faced remarkably similar conditions. Lockdowns, which the Department of Corrections euphemistically calls "modified movement", often mean people are confined to their cells all day, even for meals. They can only take one shower per week despite these institutions not being air conditioned. Programs are cancelled. Even in places not under lockdown, it has become nearly impossible for loved ones to visit in person, and even video visits have been reduced. These humanitarian disasters often get blamed on "staffing shortages." In Wisconsin's maximum security prisons, even dramatic pay hikes have not attracted enough people to fill the needs. Meanwhile, there is no staff shortage in most of Wisconsin's minimum security facilities. The biggest problem is not a staffing shortage. It is that we have far too many people in Wisconsin prisons. If Wisconsin took common sense measures to decarcerate, we could close nightmarish facilities like Waupun and Green Bay. Wisconsin actually has too much capacity in its "maximum security" prisons. Many people are stuck in "maximum security" prisons because there is not enough room in "medium security" prisons. Many of the people in "medium security" ought to be in "minimum security," but those are overcrowded. By moving elderly and ill people out of our prisons and by cutting the number of people sent back to prison for crimeless revocations, we could create enough space to safely close the Green Bay and Waupun facilities. If we did that, Wisconsin could save about $100 million per year -- money that could be reinvested in community programs that will help people succeed. In the short-term, WISDOM and the WISDOM Action Network are calling for an emergency response to what is a humanitarian and human rights emergency. That same emergency demands that we act without delay to take measures to safely and responsibly reduce the prison population. Furthermore, the principles of Justice Reinvestment call for us to reinvest the money saved from closing prisons in programs that will help individuals, families and communities to thrive.

In Solidarity,

Executive Director, WISDOM Action Network



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