Church leaders press for prison reform

by Dinesh Ramde Associated Press

A coalition of church congregations demanding reforms within the Wisconsin Department of Corrections launched the second phase of its campaign Wednesday, calling on state officials to provide more services and options for offenders on parole.

WISDOM, an umbrella organization, began its ``Reform Now’’ campaign last month in Madison. Its demands at the time included letting more prisoners out on parole and ending solitary confinement. The group expanded its focus Wednesday to include revocation, the process through which offenders who have been released on extended supervision are reimprisoned for violating the terms of their release.

Coalition members held a news conference outside the Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility, where they argued that revocation makes it harder for offenders to put their lives back together, leading to a dysfunctional community and angry citizens.

WISDOM vice president Willie Brisco said he didn’t want the anger to boil over in Wisconsin and lead to the sort of civil unrest that erupted in a St. Louis-area suburb in recent weeks after a white police officer shot and killed an unarmed black teen.

``We will not become a Ferguson, Missouri, where we let all of these things go about unanswered until they blow up in our faces,’’ Brisco said. ``This is a proactive method we are using to address these situations.’’

WISDOM speakers said offenders out on release should face revocation only if they break a new law.

Currently, an offender can be revoked for missing a scheduled parole meeting, being more than 15 minutes past curfew or crossing county lines without permission. The speakers acknowledged that those who break rules should be punished, but they said the lev- el of discipline should match the severity of the offense.

The Rev. Joseph Jackson of the Friendship Baptist Church held Minnesota up as an example. Offenders there who violate minor rules of supervision may be given the chance to participate in a sanctions conference, in which the agent, offender and others discuss the violation and determine an appropriate course of action.

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