Due to policies and practices which are costly to society and former parolees, well over half the 7,727 people sent to prison in Wisconsin in 2013 were imprisoned for parole rule violations without any new criminal charges. Those 4,049 revoked parolees made up a significant number of the over 22,000 prisoners in the Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC) and cost over $100 million a year to incarcerate. The revocation takes place in a hearing presided over by an administrative law judge who relies heavily on the recommendation of a parole agent. The standard of proof is much lower than that of a criminal trail and appeals are almost always unsuccessful. Once revoked, the former parolee can be required to complete the remainder of the original prison sentence in prison without credit for time successfully spent on parole.
Between 1974 and 2014, Wisconsin's population grew by less than a quarter from 4,566,000 to 5,686,986. During that same period, the DOC grew by more than tenfold from under 2,000 to over 22,000. The current annual DOC budget exceeds $1.2 billion. Yet little correlation between crime rates and rates of incarceration has been found. The central relationship seems to be that excessive incarceration of low-risk criminal defendants increases the likelihood of future criminal activity.
"Revocation is the last resort when other alternatives have been tried and failed," according to DOC spokeswoman Joy Staab. Yet it appears to often be the parole agents' first choice, regardless of how minor the infraction.
Take the case of Hector Cubero, 52, who spent 27 years in prison for being a party to a robbery/murder at the age of 18 before being released on parole. Cubero was violated for tattooing a minor. During his sixth year of parole, a young man who claimed he was 18 asked Cubero to tattoo him. The man's mother didn't like the tattoo and complained to Cubero's parole agent. It turned out the young man was 15.
Had Cubero been convicted of violating a city ordinance by tattooing a minor, he would have faced a maximum fine of $200. Had he been convicted of misdemeanor tattooing without a license, he would have faced a maximum sentence of 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. Instead, he was violated and has spent years in prison. Even worse, the DOC refused to allow visits by Cubero's fiancée and her three adult children under the theory that they must have known about the tattooing and failed to report it.
The rate of incarceration of blacks and Native Americans is higher in Wisconsin than any other state. 13% of Wisconsin's black males are incarcerated. That is close to twice the national average. In Milwaukee County, over half of the black males in their 30's and early 40's are or were imprisoned. At 7.6%, Wisconsin's Native American incarceration rate is over twice the nation average. These statistics raise questions of institutionalized racism which also acts to bloat the state's prison population.
Wisconsin also has close to 3,000 prisoners who have long been eligible for release on parole, but continue being denied parole despite having completed all required rehabilitation programs. That and the overuse of solitary confinement as a disciplinary tool—a practice that psychologically damages prisoners and magnifies any already existing mental health problems—demonstrates the philosophical change from prisons being a place for rehabilitation to one solely dedicated to punishment.
Sources: www.jsonline.com, 11 x 15 Blueprint for Ending Mass Incarceration in Wisconsin by WISDOM available at prayforjusticeinwi.org.
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