OPEN LETTER TO SECRETARY CARR AND ALL CONCERNED WISCONSIN A WE NEED TO CHANGE COURSE IN OUR PRISON SYSTEM
Recently a young prisoner was stabbed to death in Green Bay Correctional Institution (GBCI)- stabbed in the heart . We are still obtaining information on this victim but we know he was young with only a few months to go before release. he was well liked, and was actually trying to stop a fight over a phone. The place had been on lockdown due to lack of staff and they had all come out raring to call loved ones and friends. And yes , racism and gangs were factors. Now the place is back on lockdown for a very long time.
I bring this incident up because the deteriorating conditions in our prisons with lack of staff and overcrowding have caused the DOC to cut all programs and put staff on 12 to 16 hour shifts and install frequent partial and full lockdowns. One prisoner said it is like being in solitary confinement. There is a crisis here the MANDATES we look at the bigger picture.
Right now the DOC"S reaction to every problem is increasing lockdowns and restrictions. We will start with the use of third part mail, TEXTBEHIND to address the fentinel drug problem . OUR campaign will go on to try to educate people on just who is in our system for the rhetoric about rapists and murderers used to keep the public terrorized is nauseating and must be addressed. Also important is the fact that over a third of our prison inmates are mentally ill. As the DOC has abandoned its mission to treat and, we as a public have abandoned our responsibility to treat vulnerable people and relegate them to our prisons.
FIRST FORAY: The failed attempt to cut down on drugs in the system
Against this background of the stabbing cited above is the increased use of drugs, which most people contend , come in mostly with staff. With the introduction of the deadly fentinel into the mix, and the total lockdown of the prisons because of covid, prison authorities decided to employ a company called TEXTBEHIND= which to this day, takes all incoming mail, scans it and sends copies to prisoners- nothing comes into them from the public through the mail (except from lawfirms. )
The downsides of this system are many and complaints from all have been vocal. But the powers insist there has been a dramatic reduction of fentinel deaths since they started using Textbehind. We contest that claim and further want to expand the discussion to the negative side effects of cobbling communication between prisoners and their supports system and the refusal of the powers that be to address ANY of the conditions that cause prisoners to turn to drugs for relief.
For the rest of this essay I will try to discuss these subjects:
A)Problems with TextBehind.
1) Questions about the truth of the statement that fentinel deaths are down since text behind (tb) ,
2) the disaster this program has been for our non profit ( FFUP)
3) The disaster this program has been for the right of prisoners to access the court and to get help form other prisoners, a right ensured by the constitution
4) Deterioration of mental health of those depending on letters from loved ones- this is especially true of prisoners in solitary ( RHUS) and prisoners without money.
5) Frustration of family members that not only are their letters no longer private but the quality of the final product delivered to prisoners is poor and the time it takes to be deliver is unacceptable.
B) WAY FORWARD- we must look at the bigger picture that the use of drugs by prisoners tries to address.
PROBLEMS WITH TEXTBEHIND
1) The DOC says fentinel deaths are way down since TB.
A) We contest that and want to know how this is counted. Prisoners say that guards are especially quick in reviving and giving health care to those who overdose but let those that try to kill themselves in others ways languish. Also what is counted as prisoner death?- if the death occurs in the hospital etc. The interesting comparison would be fentinel overdoses, Conduct reports and deaths during covid lockdown and now. There you would get a sense of how the drugs come in.
B) We are told the suicide attempts are way up all through the system as are all deaths. The stabbing cited in the beginning of this diatribe is an example of the increasing stress through out the system and it will get worse if we don’t change direction in our corrections system. We contend that people turn to drugs when other ways to fill real needs are absent. The worsening conditions in our prisons must be addressed at their source. The prison authorities reaction to fentinel only makes all worse.
C) Drugs come in with staff mostly- weall know that the DOC powers know that but are afraid of possible quittings that could result from good scanning of incoming staff. Sometimes drugs come in with visitors but visitors are so closely screened this is relatively rare. While TB made some sense during Covid lockdown, now fentinel and any drugs can come in through the front door . here is link to a PLN article making the same conclusion about third part mailing nation wide>
D)As founder and co-director of FFUP, a non profit that works with prisoners and their families, I am concerned that we are no longer able to send in our newsletters , learning materials or legal guides. All our programs are curtailed to a large degree because non profit mailing rates and USPS package rates are non available when everything has to be scanned and mailed at a per page rate.
Further we have a program where we help the prisoners learn the law as this is one of the only ways prisoners have in today’s prisons to learn how to ground their frustrations and turn that energy into positive behavior. We can , by law , get legal material in , but with text behind our general newsletters and learning material as well as most expansive internet free legal guides are too expensive. And our program has prisoner helping prisoners, again a right protected by the constitution, and that is impossible with communications taking up up two weeks. Court deadlines are missed.
We are convinced that stopping prisoner litigation is the real reason for TB in our system and at that the system is very effective.
NEW DIRECTIONS NEEDED
OVERCROWDING AND UNDERSTAFFING are the UNADDRESSED underlying systemic problems . Since the 90’s the DOC has increasingly given up its basic mission to rehabilitate “offenders and keep the public safe. The prisons are now for profit institutions with corporations, communities , vendors large and small lining up the taxpayers trough. FOR example- Staff is so short it now serves 12 to 16 hour shifts- CAN YOU IMAGINE the overtime taxpayers pay?? For what? Because of overcrowding the prisoners are in their cells most of the time and programming and treatment is largely gone especially in our maximum prisons. We as taxpayers are supporting a dysfunctional prison system , not our schools. This needs to change.
Our campaign. FFUP is connecting with other activist organizations and to bring back the OLD TRUE belief that people change and that we can go beyond the fear mongering and see the human face behind our prisoners and their families.
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