Thursday, January 9, 2020

Notes from January 8 Parole Commission Meeting

These notes were written by volunteer Ben Turk after he attended the January 8 Parole Commission hearing. They include opinion statements, recollections and speculations made by Mr. Turk, who is solely responsible for their content.

I suspect Commissioners LaCost and Drankewicz as well as the DOC staff are actively undermining Tate's efforts. I suspect that he's aware of this, but has no choice but to navigate it, because he doesn't have the power to fire commissioners. He is very diplomatic, but things are clearly strained and could get worse before they get better.
Both Karen and Jacob (office assistants) left and were hired by the DOC. Two replacements have been hired, but they seem really unclear on their whole job. The commission is a full year behind on correspondence. They were already six months behind when Tate came in. Support letters and important things- like job and housing offers are not getting into people’s files, undermining their qualifications for release.

In 2014 there were 8 commissioners and 13 staff people. By the time Tate came in, it seems Walker and Gabler had reduced that to three commissioners and 2 staff people. One commissioner, Steve Landreman and both staff people left and now work for the DOC. So, the DOC appears to be hiring people out from under Tate.
Danielle LaCost has also been talking about leaving since September, but keeps pushing back her exit date, including far enough to maybe prevent Tate from being able to hire her replacement at the same time as Landreman’s, slowing things down more.
The official parole procedures are out of date and they need to be reviewed by the legislature. There will be a public hearing about that (not yet scheduled, timeline unclear). The practices are not aligned with act 28. Tate wants to create an advisory committee to get them in line with code. He will include formerly incarcerated people on that committee.
Morale is LOW. There was an astonishingly racist exchange where Danielle Lacost cried about how guards are calling Tate names. She repeated the names to him in this wildly insubordinate and racist racist terrible crying white lady way. Doug Drankiwicz implied that he was also considering quitting. He’s very concerned that Tate might hire people from outside the doc.

Parole Commission Chair John Tate II

Full detailed notes:
Karen the admin assistant (ORA) has abruptly left the parole commission to work for the DOC. Jacob (the other ORA) left in December and was planning to go work for the election commission, but it sounds like he also works for the DOC.
Tate hired three new ORAs to replace them:
1. Sarah is a former marine with a degree in HR. Danielle LaCost joked about DOC HR trying to recruit her, which is maybe just a joke, but also suggests that she’s thinking about the DOC continuing to hire people out from under Tate.
2. Oliver started 3 days ago, he's a UW Madison grad who used to work for DCC.
3. Caitlin Hendricks will be the 3rd ORA, starting Jan 21. She has a legal background. There is a Clare Hendricks who works for the DOC as Deputy Strategic Communications Director. Possibly related?
New staff say they do not know what they are doing. Karen is still in the same building so Sarah has asked her for help sometimes, and Tate talked about setting up a training day where Karen spends a day showing Sarah what to do.
Nobody spoke to why Karen left, but the fact that she left abruptly right after Jacob left has meant there is no one to train their replacements. The fact that these people went to work for the DOC, and we know the DOC is actively trying to undermine reform efforts makes me feel suspicious.
They have not been answering phone calls at all, for weeks because of understaffing, which lots of people complained about. DOC social workers got a lot of complaints from family members about that, too. Being a full year behind on correspondence means support letters are not getting into people's files to help them with hearings, which is naturally pissing parole eligible people off. If any of us were in charge we would suggest some kind of solution or work around but seems to not be happening. Tate asked to set up a day where LaCost and Drankiewicz help go through the letters, LaCost commented that many of the letters are critical of her and it’s not appropriate for her to reply to those letters. I hope Tate can make her and Doug or maybe a temp at least sort through the letters and get the support letters into people's files. We'll see.
Tate raised a concern about failing to reply to writs within the court ordered time frame. It sounds like this hasn't happened, and there's only one writ currently in the works and that got stalled because of other court proceedings.

Commissioner Danielle LaCost (we couldn't find pictures of Landreman or Drankiewicz online)

They are very much not keeping up and are just handing out 2 month defers to anyone they can't get to with a note that says, "due to short staff". It sounds like Tate is getting more hearings in per day than the others, who may be intentionally slow walking to make the problem worse. This means in two months they'll have a lot of make up to do, and things will remain slow and messy.
All of them said that dealing with hearings for people they'd never seen before was a lot of work. Tate has been doing hearings and said he has to do an hour of reading in the file before each hearing (which doesn't sound like a whole lot to me, but...?) LaCost said Tate should expect to continue doing 2 month defers on autopilot even while training new people.
Tate is doing second interviews and will make hiring decision this week. He mentioned hiring "one or two" commissioners from the current batch of 4. That batch includes 2 DOC employees and 2 outside employees.
Doug could not comprehend the notion of hiring someone from outside the DOC. If new commissioners go to a prison without first doing "security for nonsecurity" training, then DAI "will be infuriated". He said he wouldn't know where to begin training someone with no experience (as though DOC experience is the only experience). Tate sat silent for a second, then said "great. Wonderful. Really appreciate you both." He's got a politician's composure.
Tate opened the table to complaints from commissioners.
LaCost said that it hurt her feelings to be asked to retire a week early. Tate apologized for hurting her feelings and explained why he made the request. Apparently there is something with the hiring process where if she stays til end of February like she wants, Tate cannot hire two people now and would have to re-do the hiring process because her replacement's starting date would come before her last day. LaCost talked about needing to keep her healthcare as long as possible. This exchange was pretty loaded. Tate said stuff like, "you've said many times that you want what’s best for the commission and hiring two people now is clearly what's best, so that's why I made that request". It was also confusing, because I don't know if he somehow got authorization to hire two people, or if he's still hoping she leaves early when he says, "hiring one or two".
Doug said that the institutional records office is mad at Tate for not pushing back release dates on paperwork because it gives the people who won release the impression that they'll leave on that day, and they get (justifiably) mad when the records office delays release by 30 days to review the records. DCC agents are also complaining because they lack transportation, which causes them to slow down releases, which (justifiably) pisses off people who are not getting out on their release date. I suspect that if Tate changed the release dates, then the records and DCC would just slow-walk it to thirty days after the new date. They are just doing everything they can to hold people for every single day they can. Tate did not say he would change the release dates as Doug asked, which supports my suspicions and suggests that Tate is refusing to be played that way.
Doug said he was "stunned" to see new practices going on in the parole commission. Apparently, Tate was not there on Oliver's first day and Doug leapt on this opportunity to criticize Tate (his boss). Tate was at a funeral. He also said "I have the deepest respect for the position you're in, 100% staff turnover, and 80% commissioner turn over. I don't want it to be 100% commissioner turnover, I don't want to leave, I think I’m good at this job, victim’s families and institutional staff tell me I am" [paraphrasing]. He also said the job is "rewarding and highly coveted. I am met with great respect."
LaCost then laid in to Tate. She said two commissioner candidates talked to her about their interviews. One had to wait a long time, and both said Tate was not "warm and receptive." I suspect this means LaCost told her friends to apply for the job, and her friends are as white-lady-racist as she is, and Tate handled them with the polite diplomacy that he handles her with. Then LaCost went into what DOC staff tells her when she visits the institutions. She repeated these things to Tate, while literally crying. She said, "our department has been called a shit show" and "you've been called a total dipshit". It was alarming to witness someone say that to their boss in that way, but I guess that’s what the first black man to run the Wisconsin parole commission has to deal with. Tate finally said, "you can stop" and then they went back and forth with her clarifying "I'm not saying that about you, just saying that other people said it about you." It was the most bizarre thing I've seen in a while.
Judge Daniel Gabler (former parole chair)

- in 1994 Tommy Thompson sent a memo to the DOC staff saying, "the policy of this administration is to keep violent offenders in prison as long as possible under the law". This memo has defined the institutional culture of the DOC for decades. We need to expose the public to that story as Thompson's legacy, especially since he has apologized and may be motivated to an active role in undoing the harm he caused.
- Governor Scott Walker wanted to eliminate the parole commission and just let the chair make all the decisions (since all the chair was doing at that time was deferring people anyway, why bother with hearings?). Instead, he certainly scaled it back, from 8 to 3 commissioners and 13 to 2 staff.
- After Walker lost, the previous commissioner, Dan Gabler may have let the commission fall into disorder intentionally to undermine Governor Evers’ appointment and release plans. Gabler was appointed by Walker to be a judge in Milwaukee and is now up for re-election.

The legislature requires that the parole commission update its scope statement. Currently it is out of date, especially regarding Act 28 (I don't know what this is). Tate said he wants to create an advisory committee to re-write the scope statement and would like to include former judges, victim advocates, and formerly incarcerated people and prisoner family and advocates.

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