By Dylan Deprey
Though the grimacing clouds lingering over the Milwaukee County Courthouse were a clear indication of a rainstorm in the near hours, it had no effect on the few organizers braving the storm to come out and petition in the fight to close the Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility.
Whether it was a group of jurors returning from their lunch break, to those stopping to check out the jet-black, “Shut Down MSDF” sign, members from Ex-Prisoners Organizing (EXPO), as well as other organizations spread the word to “Shut it Down!”
The picket was in solidarity with the National Religious Campaign Against Torture and its, “Together to End Solitary,” on May 23. The nationwide action takes place on the 23rd of each month to represent the 23 hours a day more than 80,000 adults and youth are held in solitary confinement for months, years and even decades.
Mark Rice, Wisconsin Statewide Organizer/Assistant State Director at EXPO, said the main issue in closing MSDF are the inhumane conditions and recidivism due to crimeless revocations.
“Twelve people have died in MSDF,” Rice said. “One of which includes EXPO member, James Wilbourn who died in MSDF in 2015 due to heat exhaustion and inability to receive required medications.”
Rice said some inmates live three to a two-person cell in the poorly ventilated building with no chance at a view outside. He added that there were no in-person visits and the major lack in mental health care had also lead to deaths.
He had also experienced the conditions first hand having spent 6 months in MSDF following a police encounter resulting in a disorderly conduct charge. Though a judge, public defender and prosecutor all thought his situation did not match the definition of disorderly conduct, he was sent to MSDF.
Rice’s story, as well as many others on probation, parole and extended supervision, have played a role in Wisconsin’s mass incarceration issues. Crimeless revocations are rule violations and minor infractions that send people back to prison without committing a new crime.
“We are talking about imprisoning people for minor infractions like unauthorized computer or cell phone use, crossing county lines, missing appointments, failing alcohol tests and entering bars,” Rice said.
Charles Hampton, Table of the Saints chairman, was also collecting signatures and spreading awareness on Milwaukee’s many issues with mass incarceration.
“People need to realize that 95 percent of the individuals that are incarcerated are coming home at some point,” Hampton said.
He said the community should become more aware on the issue because when heavy recidivism and poverty stem from incarceration it becomes a community issue further down the line. He added that there were successful community alternatives that don’t involve locking people up.
“I remember I was a kid myself and I made my mistakes, but I had a lot of loving family around me to get me to see things. It took a little while, but eventually I did and that’s what it’s all about.”
MSDF will be hosting its “Close MSDF Campaign Launch Event” on Thursday, June 29th at Milwaukee Area Technical College. The event will host a panel and video premiere for, independent filmmaker, Tim Courson’s video about Wisconsin’s unjust penal system.