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From the Hole to the Street

Whatever happened to the practice of gradual reintegration of prisoners back into society? Corrections rhetoric for years has included the concept that gradual reintegration is conducive to better psychological adjustment to freedom, thereby reducing recidivism. Theoretically, inmates were to be carefully transferred from maximum security facilities to medium, then to minimum and then to a halfway house prior to supervised paroleand I believe that was primarily the norm to a large extent. Not any more.

At Taycheedah Correctional Institution (TCI), women are being given parole grants in Program Segregation--also known as "the hole" or punitive solitary confinement--the most maximum security environment possible. What this means is that women are going from the hole directly to the streets. Is it any wonder they are unable to cope after they are released?

Why, you may ask, does this happen? Since all of these policies are intentionally esoteric, it is no surprise that the public does not understand what is going on. It happens because despite a Wisconsin Court of Appeals' decision that prohibits a "no-step" restriction ( Jaworski v. Kolb , #891469, District 4, January 25, 1990), TCI Superintendent Switala imposes a "no-step" policy upon any woman convicted of any institutional offense that is simultaneously a state statute violation. In other words, some institution offenses are not against the law but are violations of institutional rules, for example: lying about staff, unauthorized communication, possession of money.

Some institutional offenses, however, overlap into the criminal code of Wisconsin State Statutes and a prisoner could be "street-charged" for an institutional offense and receive another prison sentence as well as segregation time, as for example, escape, battery and arson.

TCI Policy and Procedure #303-B 7 states:

"Exception to PolicyAny inmate involved in DOC 303 rule violations that are serious enough to warrant institution referral to county authorities for consideration for prosecution under Wisconsin Statutes, are ineligible to progress beyond Program Seg. Level 2she will remain in Gower and serve her entire adjustment committee disposition unless granted an early release from Gower by the Warden."

Bear in mind that levels and steps are the same thing levels at TCI and steps at Waupun (the men's prison).

The Wisconsin Court of Appeals, in Jaworski (a Waupun case), said no seg sentence may include a loss of step program benefits because it violates the fourteenth amendment to arbitrarily deny some inmates equal protection. The abuse potential of discretion is very high, as you can imagine. Thus, this hyper-technical little detail takes on constitutional proportions and is the casual factor requiring women to be released from the hole to the streets.

Overcrowding is another result of the TCI seg policies. We are all piling up due to the fact we are ineligible to progress beyond level 2, so we are double-celled despite a prohibition against same in Delgade v. Cady , a Waupun case.

Imagine the adjustment a woman being released to the streets from seg must face after being subjected to 23-hours a day in a cell, sometimes being denied a shower and fresh air for days. We must have a 2-guard escort and be in full restraints any time we leave the cell, even just to walk down the hall 50 feet to the showersomething Waupun doesn't even require unless the man has a history of attacking guards. Here even if you are pregnant, or four feet eleven inches tall and weigh 98 pounds, you are still cuffed to a waist restraint and have a guard at each elbow.

We must sit through our one visit per week in restraints. It must be horrible for a child to see that mommy can't even return a hug. Because of the restraints, if we need to use the bathroom we must terminate our visit. We cannot smoke cigarettes, have no television and get one 10-minute phone call per week. We must use the satellite law library, in restraints, and then for only 15 minutes.

Because women have no resource center, there are mentally ill inmates here who scream constantly, day after day, and who are subsequently maced by staff. Imagine going from living like this for years (Carol Tucker has been in seg for 4 years) directly to the streets. Can you imagine?

A typical example is inmate Tammy Schwartz who was charged with escape and placed in Gower Program Segregation December 11, 1991 with a sentence of 368 days. Because escape is a statutory violation, she was deemed ineligible to progress beyond Level 2. Every 30 days her status was reviewed. She was passive and obedient to the point of being obsequious. The women were not taken outside for fresh air in over two months, clearly unconstitutional yet she did not even complain.

On March 20, 1992, Schwartz received a grant from the Parole Commission, conditional upon a bed becoming available at the horizon house in Milwaukee. Now, if I was the warden, I would move someone who is scheduled to be released through the levels of seg and then through the three housing units so that she would be allowed gradual reintegration back into society. But Schwartz was denied advancement out of Level 2 in April and again in May, despite favorable recommendations from her social worker and all the correctional officers.

Captain Hanrahan wrote the following: "Staff reports she is cooperative and maintains a good attitude. She is conduct report free since her return. Recommend she advance to Level 3."

The Superintendent disagreed and Schwartz left TCI from the bowels of the seg unit on May 18, 1992five months after being placed in seg and two months after receiving a parole grant! That's insane! Nancy Schulz and Genora Norris are two others released to the streets from seg.

So stop wondering why the recidivism rate is as high as it is. There is no incentive to cooperate or maintain a good attitude, because no positive reinforcement exists for desired behavior. These women are simply booted out into the streets.

The solution is not to eliminate grants, but rather to abolish the "no-step" restriction and enforce compliance with the concept of gradual reintegration.

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