Social justice group raises concerns over Dept. of Corrections p - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Social justice group raises concerns over Dept. of Corrections policies

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MADISON (WKOW) -- A statewide social justice group came together in Madison Thursday night to share concerns about the prison system in Wisconsin.

WISDOM, a faith based organization, hosted a listening session at Grace Episcopal Church, where its members shared stories of those who've spent time in prison and talked about what they want to see the Department of Corrections change.

Alan Schultz, from a group called "Ex-Prisoners Organizing" or EXPO in Milwaukee, talked about his time in the prison system. He says he was sent to Ethan Allen School for Boys in Waukesha County for taking a car without permission. He says the way he was treated there took a toll on his mental health.

"I had just turned 17, they put me in to solitary confinement basically because I kicked my door and they put me in solitary confinement for six weeks," Schultz tells 27 News.

Advocates say research shows anything longer than 15 days is comparable to mental torture.

Solitary confinement is just one aspect of the prison system WISDOM wants DOC to address. The group also wants to see fewer cases of what they call "crimeless revocation", when an offender who has been released has to return to prison for a minor violation of supervision.

"Half the people going into our prisons are people who have been to prison, they're out on supervision and they haven't been convicted of a new crime, other states have capped that," says WISDOM state coordinator David Liners, who helped organize the event.

WISDOM also wants the state to adopt compassionate release practices, where aging or ill inmates are let out.

Some local lawmakers were among the nearly 100 people who showed up at the church for the listening session. Democratic Rep. Melissa Sargent, of Madison, tells 27 News the Legislature is working on many pieces of legislation to address some of the issues brought up Thursday night, but the message needs to get out to more people to bring real change.

"We need to support one another and move each other forward, rather than think what we're doing is punishing people for the rest of their lives based on something they did wrong," Sargent says.

Right now, lawmakers are working on a bipartisan bill to move 17-year-old, non-violent criminals out of the adult system and into the juvenile system. Sargent says if it passes, it's a step in the right direction.

The Department of Corrections did not respond to a 27 News request for comment on Thursday night's meeting.

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