10 April 2009
Ronald Schilling #32219
Oakhill Corr. Inst.
Oregon, WI 53575-0938
Re: Budget proposals for prison reform
To everyone genuinely concerned:
The following is being offered with hopes of enlightening your understanding of what I know to be true after being incarcerated for decades and witnessing the morphing transitions of law and policy through time, as well as the true reasons therefor. In short, I have seen it all, litigated the important issues in various courts, and examined everything in very necessary and pragmatic ways. Because of this it is difficult to have an academic detachment; from this coign of vantage the problems are known, and the solutions are obvious.
The budget proposal and possibilities currently being suggested as appropriate for meaningful change regarding the issues of crime, prisons, overcrowding and racial disparity at first blush appear sensible, but in pragmatic terms are disingenuous and will quickly be recognized as ineffective vis-a-vis the bottom line.
To be sure, something must be done, and I am quick to laud any efforts which release prisoners from this situation. But there is also a need to draw attention to the fact that the suggested measures will only allow the system to further ignore the thousands of old-law prisoners who could and should have been released long ago. Fix the parole apparatus and the problems will quickly fade away.
Old-law prisoners are continually being overlooked for proper and meaningful parole consideration despite having served the longest terms, having the rehabilitative process completed long ago, and being the most well-behaved, as well as those with the most to lose. The parole apparatus continues to fail miserably by merely dangling the parole carrot in front of our faces, and then yanking it away time after time. Indeed, I was closer to parole twenty (20) years ago than I am today, purely due to policy shifts. The reality many are coming to realize is than the carrot no longer exists. The commissioners correctly state it is their job to look for ways to parole people, but in reality they are not even trying to try. It should be shameful on their part to keep running the system in such irresponsible and costly fashion.
The sad reality is that the system has not yet been brought to a point where the commission has to act more sensibly and responsibly. Christ, everyone is still willing to keep closing schools and continue expanding prisons when every rational consideration of data suggests otherwise. It was recently in the media how three of four schools in the Fox Lake/Waupun area were closed. And yet the construction crews work incessantly at all the prisons in the same area. Shocking how complacent people are about how the state would prefer to lock up their kids than educate them.
The suggested possibility of re—naming the parole commission to expand their duties for TIS prisoners is ludicrous inasmuch as they cannot perform the tasks currently in their charge. They should first at least try to try a more sensible approach with those cases currently in their charge. To do otherwise is non-responsive to any social concerns, and fiscally irresponsible in such economic times.
The $6.5 million for improving prisoner re-entry in the ways suggested will prove to merely throw good money after bad. Being fair, there is a chance it might do some good for a few prisoners being released, but it sure has the appearance of merely creating more DOC jobs. Such funding would more effectively be utilized fostering the creation of employment measures — opportunities for starting small businesses and such — conducive to instill confidence in parolees and give them a sense of their potential and self-worth. Such an entrepreneurial enterprise could be accomplished with far less burden on the tax fisc. What is more, there are a number of prisoners with BS degrees in Business Administration who would gladly assist such a prospect if released. Such employment opportunities would prove self-sustaining in short order and would genuinely stimulate the economy in the process.
It was appalling to read the fear-mongering Republican response touting the public dangers of possibly releasing 3000 prisoners. Of those eligible, only 500-1000 would actually be released over a two year period. This gesture will not even be noticed for population reduction. Every one of those non-violent TIS prisoners probably should not have been locked away in the first place and, moreover, comprise a segment who would have been released in a month or two anyway. Ergo, it will have absolutely zero effect on the problem. Worse still, it will only allow the system to continue ignoring the release of those old-law prisoners who have served many decades and successfully completed their rehabilitation and, therefore, should have been released many years ago.
It was further suggested that a new evaluation system would ease the prison population problem. If it was an honest evaluation it would certainly help matters; that is, providing it would properly evaluate the meaningful criteria that are needed to release prisoners who most deserving. The evaluation system currently in use should be repaired so a sensible and fair evaluation can be afforded the notion that a mere few seconds of violence in a person's entire life is not dispositive of overall demeanor. People can and do change — especially after serving many decades in the system.
The use of county facilities to house prisoners will never solve anything in positive terms. It is ludicrous to imagine such conditions of confinement benefiting anyone. Being fair, it would more fully incorporate those facilities into the network; which is not to say it is righteous or that it will truly help matters. DOC has been housing prisoners in county facilities for quite a few years now and absolutely no good has come of it. Well, except for the fiscal and: census advantage attached to it.
In the final analysis, every consideration these days seems purely political and absent any real or sensible concern for justice, fairness, ethics or morality or, even, the economically distressed system. With the fairly recent JFA Institute report, it really does not make good sense to foster yet more discussion on the issues of crime, prison overcrowding, racial disparity, sensible parole policies, et al. It has all been discussed ad nauseum. The only constructive dialogue necessary is found in the JFA report and recommendations, and really does not require being re-studied by yet another committee or commission. Common sense needs to be more common.
There is currently zero accountability for the parole commission to act responsibly. Measures need to be enacted to touch the commission's emotional register to change their minds toward policies and meaningful action more conducive to the greater good of societal concerns. They are currently doing quite a disservice to society by not paroling those truly worthy of being productive tax-paying citizens.
In closing, the paradox at the core of penology is that not only the worst, but the best are sent to prison. Indeed, over the past 34 years I have met some of the most enterprising, daring, proud and brave individuals on the planet. A major recalculation is needed to address the disgraceful irregularities and inequities which cut against the notion that we are a society founded on fundamental fairness. The current parole policies cause massive overcrowding, wasting billions of dollars and diminishing many lives in the process. The human side of this equation should be given the utmost consideration when implementing any proposed improvements to the system. To not do so would be the height of folly and the acme of irresponsibility when attempting to correct corrections.
Thank you kindly for considering the above.
Ronald Schilling #32219
Senator Lena Taylor
Representative Tamara Grigsby
Kit McNally — Benedict Center
Frank Van den Bosch — Wisconsin Prison Watch
Peggy Swan — Forum For Understanding Prisons