Sept. 2009 Newsletter (WI Prison Watch)


First, an apology. Personal matters have interrupted my life and drained some of my energy and fight. With every letter I received asking “where’s my May issue?”, I said to myself, well, I’ll get one out soon so the questions will be answered. But, days turned into weeks and weeks into months and the longer I waited the harder it became to get something on paper. Life on the outside is full of distractions and responsibilities and when we don’t see the inhumanity on a daily basis (through letters) we lose our outrage, we become complacent. The Beast never sleeps, it is continually growing stronger while the few of us who care, get tired and weak. That’s how the system works, that’s why we need lots of fighters.

Anyone who understands the prison issues, knows that all the hoopla about releasing nonviolent offenders doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in the scheme of things. Over policing, career building prosecutions, and harsh sentencing remain the standard. The problem isn’t that prisoners aren’t being released soon enough (well, that’s a problem too) but rather that too many are being locked up to begin with.

Once in, we face another set of stupid reactionary people who’s ideology determines policy. Alfonzo Graham continues to give lengthy defers to guys who were ready to go home long ago; BOCM and PRC continue to place “program needs” on people and then keep them from entering the programs; Wardens and guards taunt and harass prisoners with write-ups for minor infractions, rotating the seg population to make use of all the beds.

In the meantime, politicians posture and weasel word and pass a John Doe “reform” Bill even though they KNOW the reason prisoners file with the courts is because the ICRS is worthless. The complaint system is fraught with nepotism and cronyism where justice and fair play are totally absent.

Hey, but you guys know all this. These have been constant and repeated themes in this newsletter. In fact, this newsletter has held its tongue and curbed its words lately in light of the “changes” that many perceived taking place in this country and state. Many prisoners believed Barak Obama would set a new standard and bring civility and dignity to the way America does business. They hoped that this new way would trickle down to the bottom of the barrel, the prisons. So many were under the spell of Hope-ium that speaking the truth, that Obama is a corporate salesman intent on maintaining empire abroad and repression at home, was out of bounds.

The same Hope-ium addiction afflicts many prisoners regarding the situation here in Wisconsin. The false hope that weasel-wording politicians will reform the prison system in any meaningful way, keeps prisoners pacified and complacent. Just in case you really don’t get it, things ain’t changin’. Punishment, retribution, and violence are the true values the privileged of this country hold and they ain’t giving in. Things won’t change unless YOU make them change. Sucking on that Hope-ium pipe only prolongs the misery. In the mean time, days and weeks and years slip by and the prisons get fuller and the conditions get worse.

That said, Wisconsin’s financial mess is not resolved and more and bigger cuts in all sorts of spending areas will be needed. Prisons are part of the conversation and that’s a good thing. We only wish the motivation was some sort of enlightened thinking instead of financial reality. Word is, some of the old timers with lots of time in, will be released this October. That’s just a rumor at this point so don’t start packing your bags.

Our brother Warren Lilly won a court order halting his forced feeding. The order is stayed while it runs through the appeal process. For those of you who did not receive our January 2009 issue, it is because we ran a piece written by Warren.

Judge Bissonnette actually had himself strapped into a restraint chair to understand the brutality Warren has been subjected to. Judge Bissonnette said in his order, in part, “Certainly, this Court, nor the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, nor the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, should in any way condone any type of mistreatment or torture of an inmate in a Wisconsin correctional facility. This debate should form no part of a discussion about how medical care is to be delivered to a U.S. citizen over his constitutional objection.” In other words, STOP THE TORTURE!!

Another comrade, Harlan Richardts has submitted an article on the continued ideologically (and politically) driven parole commission. His research is on the status of lifers but the trends he has teased out of the statistics are similar through every category of parole eligible prisoner. A recent report from the Sentencing Project, Life Without Parole, confirms the trends Harlan reports.

We hope this newsletter helps you sort out the conflicting news and dis-information presented by the DOC and the mainstream press. We hope to continue our efforts to bring critical analysis and revolutionary inspiration but make no promises. We always hold out hope that others will join our effort, providing the needed energy and vision. Thousands of prisoners are released every year and a few have offered assistance when released but the pressure of day to day survival along with the heavy and threatening hand of their POs as left us overwhelmed, stressed out, and tired.

We have engaged the Beast in the courts. Our case #09-C-062-C is moving forward in U.S. District Court WDWI. Hopefully the DOC will fund future newsletters. That will relieve some of our stress and invigorate our spirit. We’ll still be overwhelmed and tired but that’s the nature of battle. Onward!

in solidarity,

Quote to Ponder: “The press is so powerful in its image-making role, it can make a criminal look like he’s the victim and make the victim look like he’s the criminal. This is the press, an irresponsible press. If you aren’t careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.” – Malcolm X

Doyle’s Legacy
By Harlan Richardts

Back in the 1980s a person with a life sentence (lifer) would serve on average 13-15 years before release on parole. In the 1970s it was much shorter because Wisconsin’s governors routinely granted clemency to lifers by commuting their sentences to 50 years or less. This allowed lifers to receive parole hearings far in advance of the statutorily mandated 11 years, 3 months (one lifer had his sentence commuted to “time served” after only 5 years).

It was so rare for a lifer to spend more than 20 consecutive years in prison that in 1980 there were only two prisoners with that distinction. In 1990, it was a newsworthy item when Steve Urban died in prison after serving 47 years on a life sentence. He was released on parole in the early 1970s but by that time he had become institutionalized and quickly demanded that he be allowed to return to prison. When he died, he no longer had any family to claim his body, which was buried in a pauper’s grave outside of Waupun. The Waupun Correctional Institution Lifers Group took up a collection and bought a headstone for his grave.

Times have changed. The constant drum beat of vengeance, retribution and punishment has changed the political landscape. Newly convicted lifers no longer automatically become eligible for parole after 11 years, 3 months. The judge sets the length of time to eligibility and it is not uncommon for lifers to have to serve 30 or more years to their first parole hearing.

Fast forward to 2009, and those same lifers who could have been paroled in 13-15 years are now hoping for release after serving twice that amount of time. In the 1980s, release on parole was virtually assured based on past practice. While there are a few lifers still being released on parole after an average of 30 years, it has become the exception rather than the rule.

From only 2 lifers with 20 or more consecutive years served in 1980, there are now 255. The number is increasing every year. One of those lifers who had already served 20 years in 1980 is still in prison. Garold Rheinschmidt has now served 49 years. He is not alone. There are 6 lifers who have served over 40 years and an additional 37 lifers who have served over 30. There were none in 1980.
When data on lifers is evaluated based on year of admission, the critical year is currently 1979. That is the first year for which there are more lifers still in prison than have been released. The percentage of lifers incarcerated increases until 1989; none of the lifers who entered prison that year have been released.

Curiously, there are some anomalies. Two women came to prison in 1992 and were paroled relatively early. Lashonda Mayhall was released in 2005 after 12.5 years and Mary Leggate. One wonders why these two women were released in such a relatively short period of time while all other lifers spend years, or decades more.

To the lay person, it may seem right that “life means life”; that regardless of what was done in the 1980s and before, murderers belong in prison forever. It may seem that murderers are only now getting their just desserts. Perhaps that is true. Ex-governor Tommy Thompson made being “tough on crime” his mantra and served multiple terms as governor. The prison population was just 3,980 in 1980, grew to 7,362 in 1990 and hit 21,110 in 2005. Thompson made the warehousing of prisoners an established policy and became infamous among prisoners for his 1994 letter where he stated: “The policy of this Administration is to keep violent offenders in prison as long as possible under the law.”

The data reflect this change in attitude as most of the growth in time served to release occurred in the late 1990s and beyond. Dierdra Morgan, chairperson of the parole commission in 2001-02, is the only chairperson with the distinction of having gone an entire calendar year without paroling a single lifer (2002). In 2001, she paroled one lifer. He was housed in maximum security at the time and that generally means he was either paroled to a in prison or was released because he was terminally ill.

Jerry Smith, Ms. Morgan’s predecessor, was not much better. He released only 2 lifers in each of the two years he was chairman.

Lenard Wells was Governor Doyle’s first chairman. He started out slowly but once he gained confidence he began paroling many lifers. In 2005, he released 18 lifers. But he was forced to resign in 2006 due to the public outcry when he paroled two “cop killers.” The news media never did tell the whole story, prefering sensationalism to fair and accurate reporting. Robert Prihoda and LaVern Rogers were convicted in the 1975 shooting death of an off-duty police officer during a tavern robbery. They were both young men who made poor choices and paid the price of over 30 years in prison. Now approaching middle age, they no longer pose a threat to anyone and were appropriately released on parole. Neither one has been involved in any further criminal activity although they have now been free for years.

But Governor Doyle, ever the weather vane of public opinion, was spooked by the press coverage and replaced Wells with someone he could be sure would never make him look bad in the media again. Political expediency took precedence over fair paroling policies. The outcome of the 2010 gubernatorial election is more important than letting rehabilitated prisoners return to society. After all, nobody wants ta be “Willie Hortoned” in an election.

Governor Doyle’s adoption of Thompson’s warehousing policy seems very puzzling considering who Doyle’s father was. Honorable James E. Doyle, Sr., was a federal judge in the Western District of Wisconsin and was instrumental in bringing Wisconsin’s prison system out of the dark ages in the 1960s and 1970s. Gone are the days of bread and water diets, the silent system and a raft of draconian restrictions prison administrators once claimed were necessary to running a prison. It was so-called activist judges like Doyle who brought the cleansing light of judicial scrutiny to a medieval prison system. How ironic that decades later it is his son who is behind the erosion of those principles of justice and fair play upon which Judge Doyle’s legacy stands.

One of the basic constitutional protections our founding fathers guaranteed us was the right to be free from ex post facto laws. This includes not being subjected to increased punish-ment for a crime previously committed. It seems only fair that this principle be respected in our country. Still, many oppose such a basic guarantee.

The problem is that when the constitution was written it only proscribed actual changes in laws, not reinterpretation of existing laws. Although the spirit of the ex post facto Clause would prohibit doubling a prisoner’s time in prison after the fact,
the devil is in the details. In other words, our judges have chosen to rely on a strict literal interpretation rather than a more equitable analysis based on the intent of the constitution.
Many people listen to the controversy over judicial appointments to the federal bench with a yawn. For most citizens it does not matter who becomes a judge because they will never see the inside of a federal courthouse. But for those on the fringes of society – the prisoners and other social outcasts – federal courts are their only hope for justice. After decades of conservative judicial appointments, few judges remain who are willig to stand up for society’s most oppressed people.

Wisconsin’s lifers are trapped in a system which exists solely to perpetuate itself. In 1990, Thompson funded a study which called for the prison population to reach 20,000 by 2000. It became a self-fulfilling prophecy. The growing population of lifers has contributed to that growth. Those 255 lifers with more than 20 years served have cost taxpayers millions of dollars over the decades of their captivity. The annual cost to house a prisoner in fiscal year 2005 was $44,118. It is easy for Governor Doyle to blame our $6 billion budget shortfall on a bad economy. Much of it, however, appears to be the direct result of ill-considered corrections policies over the last 25 years.

There are hundreds of lifers still in prison under the old sentencing laws who could be safely released on parole. Jesse Derickson is 85 years old, serving double life for shooting 2 men and trying to make it look like they shot each other. Jesse has spent 26 years in prison and is now a doddering old man, wasting away in a prison cell. Wayne Lowe is 81 years old and has spent 21 years in prison on a life sentence for killing his wife’s boyfriend. Wayne weighs about 90 pounds and can best be described as frail. These men have spent decades in prison, are near the end of their lives and no longer pose a threat to anyone. Who would you rather see in a prison cell? One of the many aging, now harmless, lifers or the young gun toting gang member selling crack on a street corner near you? Which one do you have the most to fear from?

The time for vengeance is over. What Wisconsin needs is restorative justice: A system which heals the victim, the community and the offender. Now is the time to restore sanity to the correctional system. The Department of Corrections has numerous programs to help prisoners learn to be good citizens. When prisoners change their thoughts, beliefs and actions, it should be acknowledged and they should be permitted to return to being productive members of society.
Parole decisions should be based on suitability for release rather than the next gubernatorial election. Our elected officials are squandering tens of millions of dollars on misguided corrections policies while children go hungry and schools are
under funded. Isn’t it time that Wisconsin’s citizens speak out on this issue?

About the author:
Harlan Richartds is serving a life sentence for stabbing another man in a fight. He has served 24 years in prison. In April 2008, after 2 1/2 years at a work release center and 19 months on work release, Alfonso Graham increased the length of Richards’ parole defer which resulted in Richards’ transfer back to a prison for additional years of warehousing. Richards is a self-taught jailhouse lawyer who has litigated prison rights issues extensively during his incarceration. He earned a bachelors degree in business administration from UW Platteville in 1997, graduating summa cum laude. He is currently housed in Oakhill Correctional Institution.

All raw data and calculations may be found at:


Report wants life without parole abolished
By Kevin Johnson, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON — A record 140,610 inmates in state and federal prisons are serving life sentences and nearly one-third of those have no possibility of parole, according to a criminal justice research group that supports alternatives to incarceration.

The Sentencing Project, whose reports are regularly cited in academic and government reviews examining criminal justice policy, concluded that the number of inmates sentenced to life without parole has more than tripled to 41,095 since 1992. The report, citing in part the rising cost of incarceration, urges that life without parole be abolished.

The recommendation was met with strong opposition from some law enforcement officials who said life sentences, including life without parole, help drive down violent crime.

Joseph Cassilly, past president of the National District Attorneys Association, acknowledged that long prison terms are a “huge drain on resources.”

He said life sentences are appropriate for violent offenders and even some repeat drug dealers.

“Sometimes there is no way of getting through to these (criminals,)” said Cassilly, who did not dispute the report’s statistical findings.

In the project’s review, titled “No Exit,” researchers also found “overwhelming” racial and ethnic disparities for those serving life terms: 66% are non-white and 77% of juveniles sentenced to life in prison are non-white.

“Life sentences imposed on juveniles represent a fundamental and unwise shift from the long-standing tradition that juveniles are less culpable than adults … and are capable of change,” said Ashley Nellis, a co-author of the report.

Among other findings:

• In Alabama, California, Massachusetts, Nevada, and New York at least one in 6 prisoners is serving a life sentence.

• California, Florida, Louisiana, Michigan, and Pennsylvania each have more than 3,000 people serving life without parole.

• Pennsylvania leads the nation with 345 juveniles serving life without parole.

• The costs of housing an aging prison population also are rising. States should expect to pay $1 million for each prisoner who spends at least 40 years incarcerated, the report concluded.

Todd Clear, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said the cost of maintaining a permanent prison population is daunting. The total price tag to keep today’s “lifers” incarcerated for the rest of their lives could cost the nation tens of billions of dollars, he said.



Number of people sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole in the U.S.:

1992 12,453
2003 33,633
2008 41,095

The National Criminal Justice Act of 2009 – “undertake a top-to-bottom review of our entire criminal justice system” and to offer recommendations for reform.”

Senator Jim Webb of VA has introduced The National Criminal Justice Act of 2009.

Here is a fact sheet on the Bill which according to Senator Webb will be “undertake a top-to-bottom review of our entire criminal justice system” and to offer recommendations for reform.”

Here is part of Webb’s statement:

The National Criminal Justice Act of 2009 that I introduced in the Senate on March 26, 2009 will create a blue-ribbon commission to look at every aspect of our criminal justice system with an eye toward reshaping the process from top to bottom. I believe that it is time to bring together the best minds in America to confer, report, and make concrete recommendations about how we can reform the process.

Why We Urgently Need this Legislation:
With 5% of the world’s population, our country now houses 25% of the world’s reported prisoners.
Incarcerated drug offenders have soared 1200% since 1980.
Four times as many mentally ill people are in prisons than in mental health hospitals.
Approximately 1 million gang members reside in the U.S., many of them foreign-based; and Mexican cartels operate in 230+ communities across the country.
Post-incarceration re-entry programs are haphazard and often nonexistent, undermining public safety and making it extremely difficult for ex-offenders to become full, contributing members of society.

America’s criminal justice system has deteriorated to the point that it is a national disgrace. Its irregularities and inequities cut against the notion that we are a society founded on fundamental fairness. Our failure to address this problem has caused the nation’s prisons to burst their seams with massive overcrowding, even as our neighborhoods have become more dangerous. We are wasting billions of dollars and diminishing millions of lives.

We need to fix the system. Doing so will require a major nationwide recalculation of who goes to prison and for how long and of how we address the long-term consequences of incarceration.

Matlock on a Mission

Our friend Ken Harris is taking it to ‘em. Resistance to the abuse and oppression can take many forms. Some guys refuse to work, some refuse to eat, some stay in the hole, some write to politicians, some write to the press, and some learn the law and use the “tools of the Master” against the master. Our friend Matlock has done the latter, with vigor.

He recently settled his case, similar to Johnson v. Raemisch regarding the violation of his First Amendment rights in the denial of our newsletter.

He also won his Federal civil suit against the guards who abused him. That civil suit arose from the original John Doe filed by Harris in 2005. As we reported, Columbia County DA Bauer (now Judge Bauer) refused to prosecute the two guards and then Sauk Co. DA Barrett refused to interview Harris or his witnesses and asked to be removed from the case.

This case also created quite a stir when the DOC retaliated against a nurse who verified Harris’ claim of abuse.

In June, Judge George closed the case, falsely claiming that the prosecutors determined the case “lacked prosecutorial merit”. This, after 4 years of “investigation” where none of Harris’ witnesses were interviewed.

Harris has filed a Writ of Mandamus in the Court of Appeals forcing the Judge George to subpoena witnesses and documents that will prove the abuse.

The DOC, DAs, and courts want to keep their record intact – no prisoner will ever win a John Doe complaint on the 940.29 statute “Abuse of residents of a penal institution.” Who knows what pressure was applied on Judge George.

If you recall, Harris filed an ICRS against KMCI Deputy Warden Beck for foul-mouthing a group of prisoners. This resulted in Conduct Reports and other retaliation against Harris. He was removed from his program and transferred to a max.

He’s about ready to file suit in Federal Court on a claim of retaliation. You can bet he’ll prove his case. He’s a pit bull and he’s got a good chunk of their ass in his jaws.

He’s suffered a lot of abuse for standing up and fighting, but he’s satisfied and happy that he has done what he can to fight the abusive system. Fight on!

Stanley prison sucks up more state money
Published: August 14, 2009
Paul Snyder

The chorus of anger and resignation gets louder every time the state has to shell out more money for the Stanley Correctional Institution.

“It’s a white elephant,” said David Helbach, administrator for the Wisconsin Department of Administration’s Division of State Facilities and secretary to the state Building Commission. “It was a bad deal, and it never should have happened.”

But it happened and has cost taxpayers ever since.

Construction of the 43-acre prison began in 1998 as a joint venture between the city of Stanley and Dominion Venture Group, Edmond, Okla. The prison was built to state specifications with the understanding the state would buy the prison upon completion.

Helbach, who joined DOA two years ago, said the state negotiated an $82 million deal to buy the prison. But, he said, it was a curious deal considering the state was in the midst of a prison construction boom in the late 1990s.

“We bought it for about 30 percent more than we could have built it for,” Helbach said. “And we could have done it better.”

Since paying the $82 million and opening the prison in 2000, Wisconsin has dumped almost $20 million into upgrades and repairs, Helbach said.

That trend extended Wednesday when state Building Commission members unanimously approved a $313,250 boost to a security upgrade project, increasing the total cost of the security project to $1.4 million.

The project will add new door-locking and monitoring systems and fix defects in the buildings’ security systems, said John Dipko, spokesman for the Wisconsin Department of Corrections.

“We’re so far into the hole, we can’t get out,” Risser said.

State Rep. Dean Kaufert, R-Neenah, agreed, saying Wisconsin is stuck with the building.

“I don’t know if we can throw up our hands and say, ‘Forget it, we’ll build something new,’” he said. “I don’t know where the tipping point is, and I don’t think we can throw in the towel.