Wisconsin’s parole commission is a disintegrating disaster.
***THE JUNE 3 MEETING OF THE PAROLE COMMISSION HAS BEEN POSTPONED***
Parole Commission says there will be a meeting in June, but not on the first Wednesday. We will post an update as soon as we know the date.
Volunteers, organizers and supporters of people sentenced under the old law (and thus eligible for parole) have been attending the monthly meetings of the parole commission since last August. There we have seen evidence of active efforts to sabotage and obstruct the long overdue releases of our loved ones.
The racism and signs of manipulation we witnessed at January’s meeting were particularly intolerable. We will not sit and watch this injustice any longer. From now on we will follow the monthly meetings with a rally supporting reform and releases.
We ask that you please join us at the next scheduled meeting on May 6, 2020 and on the first Wednesday of every month thereafter until they LET OUR PEOPLE GO!
Our Ongoing Agenda each Meeting Day:
9:30 am- PACK THE MEETING: attend the public portion of the parole commission meeting. Public is not welcomed to speak during the meeting, but the more people we have bearing witness, the more pressure for reform will be felt.
Unknown- REPORTBACK: the meeting will go to closed session and we will have to leave the room, so we’ll gather outside to share reactions to the meeting and stories about recent releases and deferrals.
If you cannot attend, please support this effort by signing and sharing our petition demanding accelerated releases and reformed criteria.
Governor Tony Evers appointed John Tate II, a social worker from Racine to Chair the Commission. Tate is the first black man in this role, and the first person coming from a social work and helping profession (typically commissioners come from the DOC or prosecutor’s offices). He came in with a stated intention to increase releases and help reduce mass incarceration in Wisconsin.
In response, Tate has seen extraordinary obstruction from the DOC, the legislature, and even the rest of the commission.
At the meetings and through communication with incarcerated people, we have witnessed or learned about the following:
100% of Tate’s office staff left to work for the DOC.
Steven Landreman, one of three commissioners, who had been there 18 years quit abruptly and now works for the DOC.
Danielle LaCost announced an intention to resign, but has stuck around for months, making it harder for Tate to hire a replacement and get to work.
Prison guards and wardens have systematically targeted people before their hearings, giving them unusually strict or harsh conduct reports to jeopardize their release.
Senator Fitzgerald and other legislators have so far failed to schedule a senate vote to confirm Tate’s appointment to parole chair, seven months since he was appointed.
the DOC’s Bureau of Classification and Management (BOCM) has also prevented parole eligible people from gaining security level qualifying them for release
the DOC’s program review committee (PRC) has denied parole eligible people access to programs that qualify them for release.
The DOC’s Division of Community Corrections (DCC) has denied people placement in counties where they have family and a solid re-entry plan, undermining their prospects at parole.
The DOC and Parole commission have not implemented Executive Directive 31, which allowed the Parole Chair to consider releases for extraordinary circumstances like heath issues or overly long sentences.
People have been routinely and repeatedly deferred and held in prison for arbitrary and subjective reasons. Deferral reasons such as “not serving enough time for the crime committed” are common, as well as “serving too much time to be suitable for release”.
At the January meeting, Danielle LaCost indulged in repeating insults that her DOC friends had directed at Tate. “Our department has been called a shit-show”, she said to Tate, and “you’ve been called a dipshit.”
Commissioner Douglas Drankiewicz implied he was also considering quitting, saying “I don’t want it to be 100% commissioner turnover, too. I don’t want to leave, I think I’m good at this job, but…” He warned Tate not to hire from outside the DOC. We expect DOC employees will continue the obstruction and decades-long tradition of confining people as long as possible.
The sabotage of the Parole Commission started before Tate’s appointment. Under the previous Chairman Daniel Gabler, releases had all but ceased. There were so few paroles granted that Scott Walker considered abolishing the parole commission to “streamline” the process by not bothering with routine hearings anymore. This proposed change didn’t officially occur, but Gabler and Walker did allow the commission to shrink at the end of their terms. After losing the 2018 election, Walker appointed Gabler to be a Milwaukee County Judge. He is up for re-election on April 7, 2020.
The parole commission went from 8 Commissioners and 13 staff in 2014 to three commissioners and two staff by the time Tate took over. Those two staff left in his first six months. The commission was 6 months behind on correspondence on Tate’s first day, and is now more than 12 months behind. Family members write support letters and make calls to the commission, but they are never answered. Letters announcing details that would qualify people for release, like housing and job offers do not get into their files. The commission is so understaffed that they are giving out automatic 2 month defers without holding a hearing at all. Rather than letting Tate give people fair hearings and more frequent releases, Wisconsin’s parole system has made itself completely dysfunctional.
The roots of this problem lie in the law change that occurred in January of 2000. That’s when Wisconsin implemented its Truth In Sentencing Law, eliminating parole as a sentencing option in favor of a bifurcated sentence (X years in prison and Y years on community supervision with no evaluations, reviews or options for early release). This law change abandoned the people sentenced before Jan 1 to a legal limbo where they went before the parole commission whose budget and pay based on having review hearings for a limited group of people that would only grow more limited with every release. In this situation, a parole commissioner’s personal financial interest is against releasing people, because that risks making their job obsolete.
Meanwhile, the institutional culture of the DOC is to hold on to its captives using every means at their disposal. This culture is most explicitly stated in an April of 1984 memo to the DOC by then Governor Tommy Thompson. Upon discovering that he could not retroactively apply a law abolishing mandatory release, Thompson told DOC Secretary stating “I hereby direct the Department of Corrections to pursue any and all available legal avenues to block the release of [people]… the policy of this administration is to keep [people] in prison as long as possible under the law.” This direction has defined the DOC’s internal culture for decades, and based on our observations, the culture remains strong and is becoming increasingly aggressive.