#CloseMSDF Activists Deliver Demands To Gov. Tony Evers

Calling for changes in the Department of Corrections, hundreds of people from across Wisconsin marched at the state Capitol Tuesday morning. Groups are upset about several initiatives that Gov. Tony Evers has purposed in his budget.

The "Day of Action" is sponsored by the prison reform group WISDOM, which is one of the groups that make up the #CloseMSDF coalition

Executive Director David Liners says the group is focusing on the state-run Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility (MSDF) in downtown Milwaukee — an inmate recently died there.

WISDOM describes the conditions of MSDF as inhumane, and Liners says Evers promised to work with the organization on closing the place. But instead, Liners says the governor is proposing $8 million in his budget for repairs to the facility. Liners calls the switch mystifying.

"They're planning to spend $8 million to fix the ventilation system in a project that wouldn't even be completed until 2023. And in the meantime, there are so many other things wrong with using that building as a place to hold people. There still wouldn't be windows, there still wouldn't be any outdoor recreation, there still wouldn't be a chance for in-person visits with loved ones when people are there," Liners says.

Activists personally delivered a letter to the governor calling on his administration to close the Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility as soon as possible. Liners says in addition, the letter asks for changes in revocation policies, and the release of what he calls many parole and pardon-eligible inmates.

"We need the Department of Corrections to greatly reduce and eventually eliminate the practice of crimeless revocations, of sending people back to prison who haven't been convicted of committing a new crime, who just have violated a rule of their supervision. Other states have taken steps to cut way back on that and those are states, like Texas, that are actually closing prisons," Liners says.

State Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) agrees with the need to reform revocation.

"I support that. As a matter of fact, it is something before they even said we were told by the experts who came and looked at our systems and told us what we needed to do to change it. They told us our crimeless revocations were one of largest drivers into our system," says Taylor. 

Taylor says more lawmakers from both parties recognize problems with the current system, and she's witnessed what she calls a change in mentality. That makes her optimistic that they'd support revising policies.

"We've reached a historic high on the individuals incarcerated. I really believe that this session there will be a greater possibility of dealing with not only crimeless revocations but even the rules that probation and parole have," she says.

However Taylor's optimism doesn't extend to closing the doors of MSDF. "Realistically, I don't see MSDF closing tomorrow … We are multiple years away from closing the juvenile facility that needed to be closed," says Taylor. Because Taylor says closing MSDF isn't realistic, she says the state needs to instead see how it can make MSDF a more humane facility and use it less.

In response to a request for comment, a member from Evers' staff sent the following statement late on Monday: 

"The governor is spending millions of dollars to address the prison population in his first budget — the way we are doing it is by making sure fewer people are incarcerated in the first place. That includes significant investments in Treatment and Diversion (TAD), expansion of nonviolent offender diversion programs, community policing, wraparound services, and early interventions. We’re also helping reduce recidivism through substantial investments in reentry programs that provide essential job training and skills development for returning citizens. We look forward to hearing from and learning from advocates who share the governor’s commitment to reforming our criminal justice system."

The Department of Corrections did not comment.