Saturday, March 28, 2020

Crisis in our prisons-Emails and letter needed. Can you Help?

Crisis in our prisons-Emails and letter needed. Can you Help?

Our Prisons are becoming  Corona Virus Death Traps
Dangerous for us, deadly for prisoners

The whole world is hunkered down because of the corona virus. In a way we are all in solitary confinement. I write to you today because, although we can keep ourselves safe from the virus with hand washing and sanitizing and following the CDC protocol, the prisoners in our state cannot. We have become close to many prisoners in our 20 plus years of doing this work and they have kept us updated on what is actually occurring in our prisons à la the coronavirus. The WI Department of Corrections claims its COVID-19 response is adequate, but they are not telling the truth about conditions in the prisons, or their response. The news is partially documented below, and more fully documented on our blogs whose links are imbedded. We ask for your help in writing the Governor.  There are two major points to make:
1)      Remove from harm’s way those most vulnerable because of old age or pre-existing health conditions including COPD. Studies have shown that due to the harshness of the environment, prisoners age 10 years faster than we on the outside. So a 58-year-old in prison is equivalent to our 68-year-old. Governor Evers needs to act now to release those prisoners who are most vulnerable to the ravages of the virus because of age and or preexisting health problems. Many have families waiting for them or have all their ducks in a row, and would be safely and easily released. Volunteers from the prison activist community are willing to help releasees transition.

2) All prisoners need sanitizer (70% alcohol in a spritzer- very cheap, or its equivalent) and good soap (wrapped).  One inmate tells us he has use of a watered-down cleaning solution but most prisoners say they get no sanitizers.  Currently indigent prisoners are given used, dirty bars of soap if they are in general population and tiny amount of liquid soap if they are in solitary . 

3) More secure quarantine practices need to be implemented at Waupun Correction Inst. and Columbia Correctional Inst. where coronavirus has been confirmed in staff t This needs to take  place without unnecessary intimidation and punishment. Also, preventative cleaning and hygiene protocols need to be followed. 

4) Other institutions need to implement social distancing measures so there will not be heavy exposure when someone contracts the virus, as was the case in WCI where many guards, nurses, and inmates came in contact with the infected doctor. Currently some institutions such as Stanley Correctional have not stopped practices such as lining prisoners up for meals.

5) The WIDOC  must be honest with the public and prisoners about  the spread of the virus throughout the system . There is currently little testing  of prisoners and we understand the shortage of tests. We are told, however, many prisoners in both WCI and CCI show symptoms of the Virus and some are sick. There is tremendous concern that lax protocol by guards and the prisoners’ lack of sanitizers and good soap  is spreading the virus throughout the system, infecting prisoners and then  the community.
Our Governor’s mailing information:
Governor Tony Evers
PO Box 7863
Madison, WI 53707                                                                                 

Email:     Governor Evers number: (608) 266-1212  (but message box is usually full).

It is also effective to call or write YOUR LEGISLATORS. Go to and click on your district to find their contact information. In would be great if you contacted your local media.

All our news so far comes from prisoner reports, some of which are below.  We are getting reports that indicate the DOC is listening to the public as this epidemic evolves.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Open letter to Governor Evers - look to your prisons

Governor Tony Evers
PO Box 7863; Madison, WI 53707                                           

Dear Governor Evers,
 I  join with many others to ask you to act quickly to save lives. Contrary to claims by the WIDOC, messages coming directly from incarcerated friends and relatives state that COVID 19 protocols are being inadequately followed to varying degrees in all prisons. In WCI and CCI, the inadequacies seem obvious and dangerous.  Prisoners are in many ways the most vulnerable members of our community because THEY CANNOT PROTECT THEMSELVES unless we give them the tools.

Many prisoners have been contacting members of activist groups. They state emphatically that prisons not allowing prisoners to have their own sanitizers/ or the solution in the sanitizers are so weak as to be ineffective. . This is a basic requirement whenever there is the threat of community disease transmission. In addition, indigent prisoners are given used soap, unwrapped and often filthy, and segregated prisoners are given tiny plastic packages of soap (size of mustard package) that is supposed to last days. DOC has misinterpreted a legislative action ( act 355) so even those who do have incoming money are often kept nearly penniless. All indigent prisoners and prisoners who request it,  should therefore get new, wrapped and effective soap in adequate amounts..
Additionally, in WCI and CCI where staff have tested positive and the virus is spreading, woefully inadequate measures are being taken to reduce the possibility of transmission. Prisoners at the most risk are clearly afraid. At the end of this letter is a list of some of the latest testimonies from WCI , CCI , SCI and PDCI . A dramatic statement statement from Harlan Richards, fine writer and litigator, speaks for Stanley but is true for all our prisons:
Stanley is a ticking time bomb of disease, infection and death. There are hundreds of elderly and immune-compromised prisoners in Stanley, those most likely to die from COVID-19. How many will be left in cells to live or die by the strength of their immune system? There are not enough hospital beds in this rural area to meet the needs of free people. You can be sure hundreds of infected prisoners will not be transferred to hospitals for treatment. It is simply not feasible even if there was adequate bed space.
The only answer is to implement restrictions before COVID-19 comes to Stanley because once it does, it will be impossible to manage."

Prisons are each handling the virus in dramatically different ways. Prairie Du Chien seems to be most on track to reduce or prevent infection. In contrast, after staff at WCI and CCI  tested positive, it is feared that the guards  may be spreading the virus to the cells, then going home to spread it there. As of this writing, a small amount of testing has been done but results are not in. We are told there are many prisoners sick and showing covid like symptoms. One prisoner told us there are 3 quarantined prisoners at the end of his hallway. Without increased testing, covid 19 infection cannot be identified. Are illness and death within the prisoner population going unreported? If so. I fear this is intentional. When the public is in the dark about seriousness of what is happening in the prisons, DOC is not forced to answer outside questions and respond to outside demands.

Governor Evers, many people have contacted you individually and I understand that WISDOM and ACLU had an interview with you in early March. Now that we all see more clearly just how serious this pandemic is, I feel this is the time for urgency.
Here are links to FFUP reports, reports by prisoners and a scroll down sampling of prisoners at greatest risk. Please take a look.

4) Report on how we got to this level of overcrowding and understaffing and loss of mission
                  and the way back TORTURE IN WI Prisons

  All this and more can also be found on our blog: 

I appeal to you to take action on the following items:
1)Please act now to release those prisoners who are most vulnerable to the ravages of the virus because of age and or preexisting health problems. This includes prisoners over 58 and/or have prexisting conditions that make them extra vulnerable-
Most have families to go to who are waiting. For those that don’t ,volunteers can help do the phoning and internet work to make sure the soon to be released prisoners have healthy and stable place to go.
Studies show that people in prison age about ten years faster than those outside  making 58 “inside” equivalent to 68 “free”.
            1)Scroll down Blog post of a sample of prisoners art most risk:link to wordpress
2) All  prisoners need sanitizers in their cells to use on material coming into the cells and surface cleaning ( 70% alcohol in a spritzer- very cheap or its equivalent) and good soap ( unused and wrapped).Those deemed unable to handle such material because of mental illness should be denied only with due process.

3) All indigent prisoners need to receive unused, wrapped soap. Also anywho request effective wrapped new soap should receive it,   

4) At minimum: test all those reporting symptoms of the virus and test all inmates in prisons where the virus has been confirmed in staff- WCI and CCI

5) Public disclosure of all who are ill with Covid like symptoms where there is no testing , of all who test positive where  there is testing, all who go to the hospital and all who die.

6) Serious consideration taken of prisoners’ complaints of Guard abuse of protocol. Deploy National Guard  to oversee guards  in prisons where abuses continue.

7) Release ALL prisoners over 58 and/or have prexisting conditions that make them extra vulnerable-
Most have families to go to who are waiting. For those that don’t ,volunteers can help do the phoning and internet work to make sure the soon to be released prisoners have healthy and stable place to go.

8) REAL DISCUSSIONS on ending the overcrowding and understaffing that makes this virus so dangerous must begin with focus on releasing all those eligible, ending revocations without felonies and creating an environment that makes prisons an attractive place to work for people who want to help.

Governor Evers, I know from hearing your campaign speeches that you are aware of the need for improved conditions in our prisons. I ask you to help, for there is urgent need to protect the lives of prisoner. You and possibly DOC Secretary Carr, are the only people in state administration who can act with necessary speed. Prisoners are in prison for punishment. This was not supposed to be a death sentence. These are abandoned and forgotten people. Even with all safety measure in place and wise releases, the virus will take its toll. We do not have to add to the numbers and heartache with negligence.

Waupun CI Response to COVID-19 Exposure: Lackadaisical and Punitive.

This report relies mainly on phone calls with our friend Elijah Prioleau, who is locked up inside Waupun Correctional Institution (WCI) on a 3 year revocation after spending 16 years trapped in Wisconsin prisons. Elijah has health conditions that make him especially vulnerable to COVID-19 and to the hardship of an extended lockdown. We demand that he, and others like him be released immediately and quarantined in a hospital or other facility that cares for people and tries to keep them alive. The Wisconsin prison system does not.

By speaking with us and bringing truth to the outside world, Elijah faces risk of retaliation. Please write him support letters, thanking him for helping raise awareness and protect people held in Wisconsin prisons. Receiving mail demonstrates to staff that Elijah has friends outside who will not stand by if he’s persecuted or silenced.

Write him here:

Leon Elijah Prioleau
Waupun Correctional Institution
PO Box 351
Waupun, WI 53963-0351

Elijah’s testimony is based on what he saw and heard about from the cell block. We researched background information to put his observations into context. We can see two things clearly:

  • First, Governor Evers and the DOC could have prevented this exposure if they’d cared to protect incarcerated people’s health and wellness over the last year.
  • Second, Warden Brian Foster at WCI and his staff are not taking serious action to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the facility.

We have received word that Columbia Correctional is also on lockdown after a food service worker tested positive for COVID-19. We expect that Warden Susan Novak's response will be as bad or worse that the WCI response described here.


 FFUP is just releasing a report that is the culmination of 20 years of work with prisoners and their families. Although it 's main focus is the torture that IS today's overuse and abuse of solitary confinement, it also delineates the history of how we evolved such a corrupt and soul destroying system and gives our suggestions for ways to heal. Here is a link to the report itself  and two recommendations . 

Click for report:

     This is a collection of extraordinary documents and information that addresses so many Wisconsin prison issues, as well as potential remedies and solutions. I was particularly struck by the WWRC - Wisconsin Women's Resource Center. This is what prisons look like, in my experience, when the focus is on the three legs of safety, rehabilitation and humanity. Far too often the focus in Wisconsin has been on punishment, forgetting that incarceration IS the punishment. Let us focus on using the shell of prison as a place where successful programs and experiences can offer growth. Other states and countries have successfully prepared prisoners to return to our communities. Isn't this what our state's "Purchase of Offender Goods and Services" budget should centrally focus on? Teach these individuals (many of whom have had horrific life experiences and daily face mental health challenges) how to function in and contribute to the world outside of prison. Flood the prisons (and release sites) with programs and services and interventions and family and humanity and caring! We would all benefit.

Judith Adrian, Ph.D.

Co-author with DarRen Morris, In Warm Blood: Prison & Privilege, Hurt & Heart (2014) Milwaukee: HenschelHAUS.


FORWARD by Bonnie Kerness, AFSC Prison Watch Program Director 1

         I have just finished reading “Torture in Wisconsin Prisons”, which is an extraordinary report featuring the work between FFUP (Forum for Understanding Prisons) and people in Wisconsin prisons. The Forum for Understanding Prison’s mandate is to act as a bridge between prisoners, their families and the outside world resulting in this crucial report for Wisconsin legislators, the media and other interested citizens. The detailed report on the Wisconsin Department of Correction’s use of solitary confinement is an important work reflecting, in an often heart breaking manner, the way in which the use of extended isolation impacts upon individuals and their family members  – and ultimately on wider society upon the release of people who most assuredly will be affected with symptoms of post-traumatic stress.

           The American Friends Service Committee Prison Watch Program has worked with psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, prisoners, their families and legislators from other states for many years – all in a common effort to abolish and/or set limits on the inappropriate use of solitary confinement, and the extremely harsh and often unhealthy conditions of confinement in solitary units.

         We, in New Jersey, did succeed in passing a bill that will limit the use of solitary confinement, called the Isolated Confinement Act. 2 Advocates and legislators know that the triumph of the bill’s passage is only a first step in terms of addressing the conditions in which people are held in solitary confinement in the state. Since its passage I continue to receive letters from prisoners noting angrily and accurately that nothing in the bill alters the conditions of confinement which often includes a culture of officer abuse and humiliation, of psychiatric neglect, of the development of permanent mental health symptoms of post traumatic stress, none of which is addressed in the legislation that Gov. Phil Murphy signed.

           Along with limiting the amount of time spent in solitary which the New Jersey legislation achieves, we want to move forward to provide an environment which does no further damage either mentally or physically to the people serving legal sentences. Separation from society is the punishment for the conviction of a crime – not unconscionable heat, filth, vermin and human cruelty. I don’t ever want to speak at another funeral of a prisoner who has died from heat stroke. I don’t ever want to receive another telephone call from a mom crying because her mentally ill child has been bitten by mice, crawled on by roaches and humiliation by officers. The AFSC Prison Watch receives testimonies from throughout the country replicating complaints by people in prison in Wisconsin. It is to the credit of States like Colorado, Montana, Maryland, Texas, Arkansas, New Mexico, and Georgia that such treatment and conditions are being addressed.  

          We, the outside community of advocates and those who have survived this treatment must and will push forward to alter and eventually abolish the mercilessness of these conditions of confinement. Over the years, I have found it important to remind myself that the Department of Corrections is more than a set of institutions, it is also a state of mind. That state of mind cannot be fully altered legislatively, and is exactly what formerly imprisoned, families, advocates and legislators need to monitor and address with conscientiousness. It is we, the collective citizenry that can provide and ensure true social change. We want people who have paid for their criminal behavior coming home healed, healthy and with the ability to fulfil their promise as human beings.

       This report is an important and valuable tool helping us to understand the racism and classism that results in the mentally ill, the poor, and largely people of color living in circumstances which have been deemed cruel and unnecessary by the international community. Solitary confinement makes us all “wardens” of the worst kind and maintains us, as the public, in violation of international standards and treaties. Wisconsin’s Forum for Understanding Prisons is to be lauded and emulated for this fine report. It is a model for the rest of the country. We are hoping that the State of Wisconsin joins others which have passed or are currently considering this most egregious assault to human dignity.

1 Bonnie Kerness, MSW, program director of the American Friends Service Committee Prison Watch.
89     Market Street, 6th floor; Newark, NJ 07102
American Friends Service Committee(AFSC) is a Quaker organization devoted to service, development and peace programs throughout the world.
The American Friends Service Committee Prison Watch program empowers individuals harmed by criminal legal system policies and violence to heal and transform the conditions under which they live.  Program staff disseminate public information on human rights abuses and healing opportunities; respond to needs of incarcerated people and those harmed by criminal acts; influence individual administrators and policy makers; and provide expertise to coalitions, advocacy groups, community organizations, students, writers, and the media. Our Prison Watch Program monitors human rights abuses in U.S. federal and state prisons. In particular, the program promotes national and international attention to the practices of isolation and torture. Find more Prison Watch resources here. (
2Text of bill limiting solitary in NJ: Isolated Confinement :Act:

  And here is again link to the report :

What is needed we are told by long time rehabilitates prisoner, is  change the basic revenge forever philosophy of the WI DOC . To do that we need to build a power base. If you want to get involved on any level, Email
peg Swan,FFUP founder


          2008 rally by families of prisoners in front of the WI DOC headquarters                    FAMILIES for a  SECOND CHANCE   WE invi...