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Coronavirus Crisis: Wisconsin Releases Around 1,600 Prisoners, an ‘Inconsequential’ Number

By May 8, 2020, the Wisconsin Department of Corrections had released almost 1,600 prisoners as the coronavirus spread, reports.

 “The vast majority — 1,447 individuals released from March 2 to May 4 — are inmates who had been detained because they violated terms of their probation, parole or extended supervision while being monitored in the community, DOC spokeswoman Anna Neal said. The inmates were being held either in a county jail or DOC’s Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility.”

American Civil Liberties Union Wisconsin staff attorney Timothy Muth called the number of releases so far “inconsequential.”

“It did absolutely nothing to reduce the population of the correctional system,” he told the Wisconsin State Journal. State prisons hold 24,000, while 2,200 are housed in federal facilities and 13,000 in local jails, Prison Policy Initiative reports.

Reducing the prison population would prove beneficial, Muth said, because it would allow social distancing to take place.

Added Ben Turk, volunteer for the nonprofit Forum for Understanding Prisons: “It doesn’t feel like they’re really in emergency mode yet.”

The DOC counters that “Certain Earned Release and parole hearings are the only two powers the department has to release prisoners.”

In April, the ACLU Wisconsin sued, “seeking the release of elderly and vulnerable inmates to prevent an outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus in the state’s prisons.”

 “Right now, Wisconsin’s overcrowded prisons are a ticking time bomb that threatens the health of all Wisconsinites, especially people of color who are disproportionately impacted by mass incarceration,” ACLU of Wisconsin executive director Chris Ott said in a statement.

Forum for Understanding Prisons, which has helped individuals apply for clemency, would like Gov. Tony Evers and the state pardons board to take action.

“They are paying for their crimes, they shouldn’t have to pay with their lives,” says mom Jodi Nelson, whose son Ryan has an auto-immune disorder that was diagnosed after he was incarcerated. 



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