Chippewa Valley Civil Liberties Union
Annual Meeting Minutes for October 28, 2015
Unitarian Universalist Congregation, Eau Claire. WI
1. President Stephanie Turner called the meeting to order at 7:07 p.m. at UUC.
2. Minutes of the October 8, 2014, meeting were approved as distributed.
3. Treasurer David Rice gave an oral report with approximate figures since this evening’s fundraiser has numbers about to change. He reported a balance of $627.50 at the end of September. He expects the dinner/fundraiser to make about $100. The figures will be updated at the next regular board meeting.
4. President Turner named our four candidates for the board: LIndsey Brandrup, Mildred Larson, David Shih, and Paul Wagner. Larson and Shih made short statements about their civil liberties interests. Paul Wagner was absent as he is teaching this semester in New Zealand. Ann Heywood spoke for Lindsey Brandrup who had a previous commitment for the evening. All four candidates were elected by unanimous consent.
5. President Turner introduced Kristin Hansen, ACLU-WI Development Director, who mentioned the ACLU publications she brought to the meeting for distribution. (Chris Ahmuty said a few words about state activities in the few minutes after the meeting and before the panel presentation.)
The meeting adjourned at 7:23p.m. The program, “Life After Incarceration: Re-entering Community,” began at 7:30.
Ann Heywood, secretary
The following are my informal notes from the panel presentation.
Chris Ahmuty, Executive Director of ACLU-WI, talked about felon enfranchisement and miscellaneous Wisconsin prison facts. He noted that following an ACLU suit from the 2002 and years of monitoring of health care at Taycheedah Women’s Prison, the prison has been declared compliant, and the prison now is nationally recognized as having a model health care program.
– The Wisconsin corrections system has had 20,000 to 22,000 prisoners over the last several years. About 8,000 prisoners are released back to the communities every year. A huge number of those go back to prison because their release is revoked for parole violations, not because of new crimes. The old philosophy of parole was “trail, nail, and jail.” That is, look for many technical violations. That may be changing. We have great racial disparities throughout our system. The biggest problems center in Milwaukee. The city has over 200,000 officer initiated stops annually. At ACLU we often talk about the school to prison pipeline and how to plug it.
– Two marijuana possession convictions constitute a felony.
– We have about twice as many prisoners as Minnesota.
– Felon disenfranchisement has been the practice since the days of Jim Crow. In 1947 Wisconsin made it a felony for ex-felons who are still “on paper” (on parole) to vote. Studies have shown lower recidivism rates for those who have the vote in other states. The ACLU tries to educate ex-felons so they don’t commit the crime of voting.
Paul Reed, Chief U.S. Probation Officer for the Western District of Wisconsin, discussed what is happening in the federal parole system under his leadership. He insists on an evidence based practice. What works is working with people and building relationships. Parole officers work earlier with their clients than ever before. They get into the institutions and advise felons of the consequences of breaking the rules. They use re-entry programs sometimes years before release, including mentoring and job fairs. Mr. Reed is attentive to dignifying language, such as using titles of Mr. or Mrs. Instead of “the offender.” “Residential Re-entry Center” is better than “half-way house.” He does not carry a handgun. He often thinks a seven year sentence would do just as well as a 14 year sentence for punishment, but he does recognize that some people do need extensive help.
Holli Linn, Program Supervisor–Community Transition Center, works with adults in jail, prison, on probation, on Huber release, and in pre-trial programs. CTC does case management and lots of drug testing. She pushes for treatment. Some of the challenges of clients include transportation, multiple evictions, need to be established, spotty work record, high cost of living spaces, and unpaid large utility bills.
David DeFord, EXPO (Ex-prisoners Organizing) member, told of his long experience with the corrections systems. At 45 he has spent 19 years in prison, starting at age 13, and has come out four times. This time he has been out for 1 ½ years and making it. Upon release he was given 30 days to find a job, housing, money. His parole officer was able to get him another 30 day extension and connect him with help for housing. Housing is the hardest challenge for men. He said the first 90-120 days out of jail or prison are brutal. He battles with anxiety as he faces the challenges.
Sara Ferber, EXPO member, has spent little time locked up. She went to college and knows the community resources. Nevertheless, she has found it very hard to re-enter successfully. She was a drug addict and originally she did not have restrictions when released. She felt she needed restrictions, and she asked for help. She spent some time at Bolton Refuge House. She said it is hard for most people to imagine having nothing and then re-starting a life.
Jerome Dillard, Re-Entry Coordinator for Dane County Human Services and EXPO member, said ex-prisoners need a place in the community.
– The 1994 Crime Bill rested on the goals of getting tough on crime and truth in sentencing. Government spent $12.5 billion to expand prisons, largely to get tough on drug dealers. Nine prisons were built in Wisconsin and one was purchased. Three-fourths of the inmates are non-violent offenders.
– He supports the bill to “ban the box” (box on job applications that asks about felony record).
– Kids enter prison at 16 or 17 and come out 10-15 years later. They never had a chance.
Q and A period:
– We do not have private prisons in Wisconsin, but there is a move to privatize services. Privatization is a danger in lots of transition services. Who is behind these services? Hedge funds and . . .
– Housing is a huge problem in EC County. Ex-prisoners who are desperate for housing go back to the people who were trouble for them in the first place.
– ACLU will support a bill that moves 17 year olds to juvenile court, but it won’t do much good because there will be many crimes on the exception list.
– Felony record never goes away. One can get a job, but housing is very difficult.
– Brain trauma affects a large percentage of felons. It also needs to be considered in helping people to transition.
– It is practice in EC County sometimes to release prisoners from jail at 4:30 a.m. or other odd hours and sometimes in pajamas.
– Mass incarceration is a public health crisis.
– JONAH’s Criminal Justice Reform Team meets every 4th Tuesday at the UUC.