Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service
Op Ed

“I lost my job, my scholarship and my apartment.”

3,000 people in the state were incarcerated without conviction in 2015. Why?

By , Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service - Dec 14th, 2016 10:00 am
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From left: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel columnist James Causey; Clayborn Benson, executive director, Wisconsin Black Historical Society (obscured); EXPO of Milwaukee leaders Sharyl McFarland, Carl Fields and James Watkins participate at an EXPO of Milwaukee community forum at the Wisconsin Black Historical Society in June. Photo courtesy of NNS.

From left: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel columnist James Causey; Clayborn Benson, executive director, Wisconsin Black Historical Society (obscured); EXPO of Milwaukee leaders Sharyl McFarland, Carl Fields and James Watkins participate at an EXPO of Milwaukee community forum at the Wisconsin Black Historical Society in June. Photo courtesy of NNS.

According to a groundbreaking Health Impact Assessment, the Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC) incarcerated nearly 3,000 people on probation, parole or extended supervision in 2015 who were not convicted of crimes. The DOC sent these people back to prison solely for violating rules of supervision. It is time for Wisconsin policymakers to stop this unjust practice.

Human Impact Partners, WISDOM, and EXPO (EX-Prisoners Organizing) conducted the assessment, which examines how incarcerating people without conviction affects the health of individuals, families and communities. Findings include:

  • The average term served for a crimeless revocation is 1.5 years;
  • This practice costs Wisconsin taxpayers $150 million per year;
  • Though only 6 percent of people in Wisconsin identify as black, 40 percent of people who the DOC incarcerated without conviction in 2015 identify as black;
  • Though only 18 percent of people in Wisconsin suffer from mental illness, 44 percent of people who the DOC sent back to prison without conviction in 2015 suffer from mental illness;
  • 2,700 Wisconsin children each year have a parent incarcerated for a simple rule violation.

On Nov. 22, WISDOM and EXPO released a book of stories entitled “Incarcerated Without Conviction: The Abuse of Revocation in Wisconsin.” The book includes the stories of several African-American men and women and several people with mental illnesses who have been incarcerated for minor infractions that did not involve new crimes.

Numerous stories demonstrate how incarceration without conviction can devastate black lives. The DOC forced EXPO leader Frank Davis to spend almost three years in prison for simply owning a computer and a cell phone. The DOC imprisoned EXPO of Milwaukee leader Wayne Murphy for 32 months for passing out drunk in public. Wisconsin officials incarcerated EXPO of Milwaukee leader Troy Hawkins for 18 months because he used alcohol and drugs and had sex without prior agent approval.

Wisconsin administrators sent EXPO of Milwaukee leader Ventae Parrow back to prison without conviction on three separate occasions. Parrow said, “It’s frustrating when you’re out here working a job, going to college, having a place to lay your head and helping your family out and then whenever they feel like it they snatch the rug from under your feet and they place you in prison even though you have not committed any crime.”

The DOC forced Louis Taylor to spend months in the Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility (MSDF) for several unsubstantiated allegations that his ex-girlfriend made after they broke up. Taylor’s experience with the revocation process in Wisconsin prompted him to say, “Black lives will never matter in Wisconsin.”

My story demonstrates how incarceration without conviction can harm people living with mental illness. A psychiatrist diagnosed me with paranoid schizophrenia in 1999. The state of Wisconsin convicted me of several offenses that were related to this disabling mental condition.

During the summer of 2007, Milwaukee police officers arrested me for disorderly conduct while I was experiencing symptoms of my mental illness. I was still on probation for a crime I was convicted of in 2000 so the officers took me to jail.

The officers arrested me a few days before I was going to start my second year of graduate school at UW-Milwaukee. During the 2006-2007 school year, I worked as a project assistant at the university and received a full-tuition scholarship.

I went to court after spending a few days in the Milwaukee County Jail. The judge, the prosecutor, and the public defender all agreed that my behavior did not fit with the definition of disorderly conduct. The judge dismissed the case, but I did not get to go home.

My probation officer, who had no specialized training in mental health issues, decided to move forward with the revocation process. My former probation officer, a mental health specialist in Madison, thought that an alternative to revocation treatment program would have been a better option.

The DOC forced me to spend nearly six months in MSDF while I fought the revocation. An administrative law judge eventually revoked my probation. I went back in front of the sentencing judge a few weeks later. I faced a maximum of 12 years in prison but, fortunately for me, the sentencing judge decided to let me go home.

I lost my job, my scholarship and my apartment because of the revocation. I also lost my Supplemental Security Income, health insurance and FoodShare benefits. I had to re-apply for all of these benefits after I got released.

I returned to UW-Milwaukee after my release. However, I never got my job and scholarship back. I earned a master’s degree from the university in 2009.

It is time for the DOC to eliminate incarceration as a response to non-criminal violations of the rules of parole, probation and extended supervision.

Mark Rice, a Wisconsin statewide EXPO organizer.

4 thoughts on “Op Ed: “I lost my job, my scholarship and my apartment.””

  1. Vincent Hanna says:

    In the JS story they used the example of a man who has been sitting in jail for more than 4 years for tattooing a 15-year-old, something that is a $200 fine. That is outrageous and unbelievable. 3,000 kids have at least one parent incarcerated despite the lack of a criminal conviction. For shame Wisconsin.

  2. Sean says:

    The lack of support for mental health is devastating in the state of Wisconsin. How does a probation officer in this case with knowledge of their clients mental health issue not support their client. This is an awful precedent that has been set by the DOC. Whether it be these individuals being incarcerated or the assaults and killing of those with disease, it is very clear that mental health assistance would help cure many of these issues for more than just the ill.

  3. Destini says:

    My boyfriend is currently experiencing this same issue right now as we speak it shames me how the Wisconsin judicial system works I’m currently with child his Po knew that we were currently struggling to obtain housing and he suffered from many mentally illnesses she went on to say she was revocating him because she felt that he was in an unhealthy relationship not that he violated or broke any rules to his extended supervision so basically she tried to play the counselor role instead of the role of a probation officer since he’s been locked up I’ve been severely depressed my stress levels are through the roof and not only that he has DVT clots in his legs that was not being treated properly and caused more health conditions to occur like internal bleeding from medicine that he was been supposed to be discharged from Xarelto which now has caused him to bleed from his left lung he is currently suffering more by being incarcerated then he was on the streets he’s no threat to society he didn’t gun anyone down not only did she revocate him she took his street time and added it back to his extended supervision which will leave him with a release date of 4/2018 they expect us to trust them with doing the right thing when it comes to our loved ones but the system has betrayed so many families for so many years it’s just down right disgusting my boyfriend calls me with new complaints on Milwaukee Secured Detention Facility everyday and one day I took it upon myself to call to see what could be done about his medical condition cause they kept telling him it was nothing they could do when I called they pretty much told me the same exact thing which prompted me to look into further actions on his behalf inmates are being treated so unfairly and indifferent in MSDF and they always try to find a way to cover up all their dirty work which prompted me to take studies in criminal justice myself I’m also putting together a rally for people who are getting played on their parole probation and supervision I know it will take a village in order to be heard let’s stand for what’s right when it comes to our love ones being punished for absolutely nothing

  4. JaneDoeSpeaks says:

    There are few positive role models of former Wisconsin felons that did actually survive the system and get off paper. The problem is those few survivors remain felons and they risk loosing the new life they built to serve as role models.

    If as a person raised in Sherman Park returned today as that role model what you see first the color of my skin or my gender or my age. The problem survivors of the system face is they expect a survivor to look like them so felons can see their own self in the image of success.

    WI DOC has survived with outdated thinking because people were too afraid to speak out and share their stories.

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