Learn more about Old Law Parole #ReformNow #ReformWisDOCNow @Wisdom4Justice

In Wisconsin, more than 2,800 men and women remain incarcerated, even though they are legally eligible for parole under the terms of their original sentences. Their continued incarceration costs the state more than 96 million each year. All of these inmates were sentenced prior to the enactment of the Truth In Sentencing legislation. Consequently, many were given longer sentences with the expectation that they could be released after 25 percent of their time had been served. At this point in time, many have completed their required programs, have solid release plans, have all been incarcerated for more than 25 percent of their sentence, and many even work in the community with little to no daily supervision. Still, they are continually told that their release would impose an unreasonable risk to the public and that they have not served enough time. It is time for the Governor, the Department of the Corrections, and the Parole Commission to fix this broken, ineffective, and very expensive system, allowing these men and women to return to their families and become productive members of our society.


MOSES Official Position Statement on Proposed New Jail

Recently, the Dane County Sheriff’s office released a study conducted by Mead & Hunt recommending plans for a new Dane County Jail.  The cost to taxpayers would be close to $135M. MOSES has had conversations with Sheriff Mahoney, several stakeholders, and has done thorough review and discussion of the Mead & Hunt report.  MOSES is working hard to find the best solution to these complicated issues and is committed to working collaboratively with other stakeholders toward that goal. The following is MOSES’ official position on the new jail proposal (Click here to download a pdf).

A New $130M Dane County Jail?
The Wrong Solution to the Wrong Problem

MOSES rejects the proposal for a new Dane County jail.  Data show that a large percentage of the people in Dane County jail are there unnecessarily.  Correcting outdated and misaligned policies and practices would dramatically reduce the number of jailed people, beginning in the next few months.  This is the shortest path toward closing all or part of the unsafe City-County Building jail, reducing racial disparities, and avoiding waste of lives and money.  It is also a necessary prerequisite to making credible projections about long-term jail needs. needs.

Dane county contracted with a prison design firm, Mead and Hunt, to produce a report and recommendations for a new jail.  After studying their document, the concerned citizens of MOSES reject the proposal.  We are clear that no new jail building is needed, for the following reasons:

  1. We agree that the City-County Building jail is sub-standard, and that this must be addressed immediately.
  2. The fastest and most cost-effective solution lies not in brick and mortar, but in rapidly implementing proven new systems and policy changes to immediately stop unnecessary incarceration.  With fewer people in all three jail sites, the City-County building site can be fully or partially emptied, remodeled, and put to other non-jail use.
  3. A new jail building (estimated to cost $130-$141M) would not only be wasteful and unnecessary, but may also sustain or worsen Dane County’s excessive incarceration rate and appalling racial disparities.

In MOSES’ view, the Mead and Hunt report:

  • Assumes that Dane County’s already outdated incarceration policies and practices will continue.
  • Ignores more cost-effective alternatives already implemented and proven throughout the U.S.
  • Inflates the number of beds needed, based on questionable projections of the number of people in jail.[1]
  • Creates perverse incentives to jail more people in order to maximize staffing and facility efficiency.[2]
  • Proposes to generate revenue by incarcerating people from other counties’ jails–particularly youth.[3]
  • Assumes incarcerating the same or greater number of people with mental illness.
  • Ignores new funding opportunities in BadgerCare expansion to single individuals starting April 1, 2014.

Dane County’s incarceration rates can, should, and must be lowered by implementing new standards of practice, including treatment, alternatives, and diversions in the arrest, pre-trial detention, prosecution, and incarceration stages of the criminal justice process.  These practices are well established elsewhere and proven to be more cost- effective and better for communities.  Medicaid funds are also now more available to fund treatment alternatives.

As one example: Black people are typically 48% of the Dane County jail population but only 14% of those on home electronic monitoring.  This likely relates to inability to pay the required $20/day fee to participate in electronic monitoring.  The effect is that African Americans are disproportionately incarcerated unnecessarily.

The table on reverse side shows many examples of unnecessary incarceration, and the changes that could reduce it.  MOSES is working hard for the changes needed to correct this terrible situation in our county.

[1]Despite a decline in Madison arrests since 2004, a decline in the number of new District Attorney cases since 2007, and a large decline in the average daily number of people in jail since 2006, the plan projects future jail space need by using a starting number higher than the current average daily number of jailed people, and then projects a steady increase.

[2] The plan proposes 64-bed “pods” to maximize facility/staffing efficiency.  But each pod is only efficient if at least 90% full.

[3] The plan projects only 14 youth beds needed, but proposes a 40-bed youth unit so that Dane County can make over $1 M annual revenue housing teens from other counties.


ADP = Average Daily Population (2012 actual or 2013 estimated);
LOS = Length of stay (in days)

People in Dane County Jail% of ADPLOSProposed Alternatives to Reduce Jail Time
People who cannot post their bail bond of:Do these people need to be in jail?
< $5000.33884Establish bail payment fund, sliding scale bail, or ROR
$501 to $1,0000.08125Assist into FoodShares & other job training programs
$1,001 to $5,0000.07134Implement Pre-Trial Services Program
Effect: Jail functions as a Poor HouseCommunity service in lieu of bail
People in jail who could be released for Huber privileges (to work or school)0.236If these people are safe enough for Huber, why aren’t they completely out on supervision?
Note: No racial data provided in report.Did they ever need to be in jail?
Note: Some Dane Co. Huber participants return to jail nights & weekendsHuber participants should be on home electronic monitoring, not in jail
Need racial data and eligibility policy to ensure equity
People with DOC holds, many with rule violations, not new crime. Note: 40% of holds are dropped; see next row.0.19425.1Why so long? What systems changes could reduce or eliminate jail time?
Note: Malfunctioning DOC bracelet/GPS equipment causes thousands of jail days
People with mental illness0.02931 to 43Treatment, alternatives, diversions
to 18.4% Create Mental Health Court (Medicaid funds)
(Note: Estimates in the jail plan report vary widely)Prohibit solitary confinement for person with mental illness (except emergency segregation pending transfer to treatment facility)
Transfer to mental health treatment facility
Release to community with Medicaid services
People with admission type “amended”0.06467.5Need clarification of what this “amended” admission type means and whether there are potential alternatives to jail for people in this category.
People who are released by signature bond or ROR (Release on Recognizance)0.0414.6Why does this take 3 to 5 days?
What systems/policy changes could reduce this?
People released after “hold” dropped0.03510.1Need clarification of what these “holds” are: Does it include DOC holds, and/or other types of holds?
People who are later released on cash bail 0.0333.3Why does this take 3 to 5 days?
What systems/policy changes could reduce this?
People in jail for 24 to 72 hours0.0231 to 3Video court sessions 7days/week
·    Initial court hearings occur only Mon-FriIf safe in community, release ROR, or w/ supervision
·    Bail hearings occur only twice/weekMore staff in District Attorney’s office
Youth—16 and 17 year olds0.019Youth court, restorative justice, treatment, etc.
MOSES/WISDOM is working on legislation to reassign16/17 year olds to juvenile justice system.
People in jail for less than 24 hours0.017<1What systems/policy changes could avoid this? (e.g., diversion from arrest; diversion from prosecution; District Attorney’s policies]
Low-level drug offensesTreatment instead of jail, and/or release ROR or on supervision
Arrests on old warrants Erase old warrants (Hoover Family Foundation work)
Reduce RecidivismAssist people with access to benefits (BadgerCare, FoodShare, job programs, etc.) before release[1]

[1] The Hoover Family Foundation has trained MOSES volunteers to help people apply for benefits, and has offered funding for other ways (e.g., bail fund) to stop unnecessary incarceration.

Ban the Box and Stop Over-Use of Criminal Background Checks

Move conviction questions from the start to the end of the job application process

1 out of 4 U.S. adults has an arrest or criminal history that shows up in criminal background checks. Of those who are incarcerated, 95% will be released back into the community. ~54% of those released will return to jail.

The biggest reason people end up back in jail is because they cannot get jobs.  The biggest reason they cannot get jobs is because most initial job applications now have a yes/no check-box (or question) about convictions.  A “yes” answer usually means instant disqualification at the start.  The applicant is denied–even if they are a highly qualified and motivated worker, even if their crime was many years ago or has nothing to do with the job they seek, even if they have turned their life around.  With no job, people can’t provide for themselves and their families. They end up on public support, desperately poor, and often back in jail.  Their children suffer from this instability and poverty; many end up in foster care or in jail as well. All this is a waste of taxpayers’ money and human lives.

Ban the Box initiatives simply move the criminal history question from the start to the end of the job application process.  When criminal background checks are done later, qualified applicants can respond and explain during interviews (or later).  After that conversation, the employer can decide whether or not to deny the job based on the criminal record.[3]

Ban the Box won’t:

  • Override laws that prevent people with relevant convictions from certain jobs such as working with children or vulnerable people, or with money, etc.
  • Take final hiring decisions away from employers, or force them to hire any individual
  • Prevent employers from asking for a criminal background check

Ban the Box will:

  • Make our communities safer by reducing recidivism [4]
  • Let more people contribute to the economy and pay taxes, which benefits us all.
  • Provide more stability and income for the children of formerly incarcerated people
  • Give employers access to qualified applicants and workers
  • Restore hope, dignity, and justice for all

Ban the Box policies have been implemented in Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois, and 8 other states, and more than 56 large U.S. cities and counties.[5] It makes sense, it works well, it’s easy to do, and it’s the fair thing to do.  Please support Ban the Box initiatives in your area.

Stop Over-Use of Criminal Background Checks

“An employer cannot, legally, make a rule that no persons with conviction records will be employed. Each job and record must be considered individually.”

WI DWD/Equal Rights Division, pub. #7609

 Over-use of criminal background checks creates wasteful barriers to employment for many U.S. workers, and especially for people of color.  Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Guidance advises that overly broad criminal history screening practices “may disproportionately impact some individuals protected under Title VII [Civil Rights Act of 1964], and may violate the law if not job related and consistent with business necessity.” [6]

Wisconsin statutes state that employment can be denied only for convictions that “substantially relate[s]” to the circumstances of the particular job.[7]

Both agencies advise employers to instead use a 2-step process starting with a targeted screen that considers the nature of the crime, time elapsed since, and the nature of the specific job.  The 2nd step is to allow qualified applicants with relevant convictions to explain and correct errors in the record (which are very common).[8]  Below are key points from these agencies:

  • Remove questions about criminal records from initial employment applications.

These questions are usually overly broad and wrongly block applicants from being evaluated based on their qualifications.  Instead, let all qualified applicants have equal opportunity to be interviewed, and obtain criminal background checks at that later stage.

  • Consider convictions only when they directly relate to the position being sought.

Federal and state laws require this.  Also, employer liability for negligent hiring has been defined very narrowly: Employers are not liable for a hire that creates no more risk than the person simply being present in the community or in any other job.

  • Develop policies that are tailored to assess for unacceptable risk for specific positions, consistent with the evidence, and for a limited time period.

Only adult convictions should be considered—not arrests only; not dismissals, stays of adjudication, or juvenile adjudications; and not expunged or pardoned convictions.[9]

  • Give the applicant a chance to explain, and consider evidence of rehabilitation.

If a conviction does directly relate to the position sought, the applicant must have the opportunity to show evidence of sufficient rehabilitation and fitness to perform the duties of the position, and the opportunity to identify inaccuracies in the criminal record.

  • Develop clear and narrowly tailored policies to comply with state and federal laws.

Train staff and managers in proper procedures. Inquire only about job-related convictions.  Keep all information about criminal records confidential. See references below and on other side for further guidance and model practices.


[1]  “65 Million Need Not Apply,”  Michelle N. Rodgrigues, M. Emsellem. National Employment Law Project (NELP), March 2011.  www.nelp.org/page/-/SCLP/2011/65_Million_Need_Not_Apply.pdf  (p. 27, n 2.)

[2] “State of Recidivism: The Revolving Door of America’s Prisons. PEW Center on the States, April 2011.

[3] See other side for more detailed guidance for employers.

[4] An Illinois study showed that employment reduced the recidivism rate from 54% to 6%. (Art Lurigio, Safer Foundation Recidivism Study, 135thCongress of American Correctional Assoc., Aug. 8, 2005).

[5] www.nelp.org  (National Employment Law Project)

[6]  “Consideration of Arrest and Conviction Records in Employment Decisions Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”  EEOC Policy 915.002, April 5, 2012. www.eeoc.gov/laws/guidance/arrest_conviction.cfm

[7]  Wisconsin Statutes §§ 111.321, 111.322 prohibit employment discrimination in both public and private sectors on the basis of either an arrest or conviction record (1981).

[8]  “In Search of a Job: Criminal Records as Barriers to Employment.” Amy L. Solomon, National Institute of Justice Journal No. 270. www.nij.gov/journals/270/pages/criminal-records.aspx

[9]  EEOC Policy 915.002, April 2012, and “What You Should Know: EEOC’s Response to Letter from State Attorneys General on Use of Criminal Background Checks in Employment.” Aug. 29, 2013. EEOC website

Voices From Inside: Wisconsin Prisoners Speak OUT

Get Your Copy Today!

Voices From Inside

“Voices From Inside:  Wisconsin Prisoners Speak Out” is now available.  The book contains excerpts from some of the hundreds of letters WISDOM has received from inmates since the start of the 11×15 campaign.  The letters touch upon a variety of themes, and each of them reminds us that prisoners are human beings with hopes, dreams, regrets and questions.  The letters are accompanied by reflections from judges, bishops, pastors and others, as well as important facts about the criminal justice system.

Books can be obtained from any local WISDOM group or from the WISDOM office — 3195 S. Superior St., #310, Milwaukee, WI 53207.  A $5 donation per book is suggested.

11 x 15 Updates

11X15 News updates

     A 2008 Legislative Audit Bureau report shows higher rates of recidivism among younger offenders placed into the adult correctional system. Recidivism rates among 17-year-old defendants in Wisconsin are estimated to be as high as 48 percent, three times higher than for adult offenders or younger juveniles in the juvenile system. The Wisconsin Joint Legislative Council requested an analysis of the juvenile justice process in Wisconsin and examination of current practices in other states. This report evaluates the status quo policy and two categories of alternative policies: waiver laws and blended sentencing.   For a 2008 study:  Treatment of Juveniles in the WI Criminal Court System: An Analysis of Potential Alternatives prepared for the Wisconsin Joint Legislative Council by the La Follette School of Public Affairs…click here

“Active participation by a Sentencing Commission is an essential element of effective guidelines,” according to a recent research report Assessing Consistency and Fairness in Sentencing (National Center for State Courts, 2008). The report is based on a comparative inquiry into how sentencing guidelines shape who is sentenced to prison and for what length of time. A key finding of the study is that Commissions play a critical role in designing guidelines, assessing whether guidelines are working as intended, and identifying how needed adjustments might best be made A 2008 comparative study of sentencing guidelines by National Center for State Courts (NCSC) click here…

The fear, anxiety and memory loss are some of the symptoms commonly found among people kept in extreme isolation. They lie at the heart of a policy and scientific debate that was renewed this summer after prisoners statewide went on a hunger strike to protest conditions in high-security lockups. State legislators have begun to question whether a system primarily designed to isolate gang members is standing in the way of rehabilitation.  For a sense of the enduring impact of prison isolation see this November 8, 2013 LA Times article: Prison isolation

In February, a group of American corrections officials, judges, prosecutors and public defenders spent a week visiting prisons in Germany and the Netherlands. Those countries incarcerate people at about one-tenth the rate of the United States, for far less time, and under conditions geared toward social reintegration rather than punishment alone. US incarcerates more…

A letter to the editor about the challenges facing ‘offenders’ seeking housing “Offender” stigma for would-be renters