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Prisoner Advocacy Groups Call On Evers To Help Slow COVID-19 Spread In Wisconsin Prisons

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Wisconsin prisoner advocacy groups say prisons can't handle COVID-19 at their current capacity and need to take measures to ensure the safety of inmates.

Family members and loved ones of people incarcerated in Wisconsin are growing more concerned about the spread of COVID-19.

At least three state prisons have reported outbreaks among inmates, and at least two people have died at the Dodge County Correctional Facility. The number of deaths from COVID-19 inside prisons could be higher, but the Department of Corrections doesn’t release that information due to privacy concerns.

Prisoner advocacy groups continue to call on Gov. Tony Evers to take action and protect people who are incarcerated. Peggy West Shroeder, an organizer with Ex-Incarcerated People Organizing (EXPO), says measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, like social distancing and providing hand sanitizer, just aren’t possible in prison. Masks have been provided to prisoners, but Shroeder doesn’t think it happened fast enough.

“No one in the state of Wisconsin has received the death sentence and that’s what this is becoming,” she says.

EXPO has called on the Evers to set up a process to reexamine petitions for compassionate release for those who are at a higher risk of dying from COVID-19.

“We want him to go back in and re-review those applications as say, if you knew that there was a virus, because there is, that would kill you — it attacks a person with preexisting conditions, with an autoimmune deficiency, someone who is elderly — would you look at this application differently and would you then grant this person release?” says Shroeder.

They also want Evers to give more resources to the parole board to examine cases of currently incarcerated people who could be given parole and help decrease the prison population.

Shroeder does believe increasing mask use and other hygiene measures can help prisons. But she notes that the infrastructure of prisons just can’t handle COVID-19 with its current number of inmates.  

“Most of the state correctional facilities are antiquated buildings that don’t have windows that are allowed to open, the ventilation systems are outdated, and you're basically introducing a virus into a situation where it only grows,” says Shroeder.

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LaToya Dennis joined WUWM in October 2006 as a reporter / producer. LaToya began her career in public radio as a part-time reporter for WKAR AM/FM in East Lansing, Michigan. She worked as general assignment reporter for WKAR for one and a half years while working toward a master's degree in Journalism from Michigan State University. While at WKAR, she covered General Motors plant closings, city and state government, and education among other critical subjects.