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Church coalition extends calls for prison reform (UPDATE)

By DINESH RAMDE
Associated Press

MILWAUKEE (AP) — A coalition of church congregations demanding reforms within the Wisconsin Department of Corrections launched a second phase in its campaign Wednesday, calling on state officials to provide more services and options to inmates 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 re-imprisoned for violating the terms of their release. At a news conference outside the Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility, speakers argued that revocation impedes offenders’ ability to put their lives back together, leading to a dysfunctional community and angry citizens.

“We will not become a Ferguson, Mo., where we let all of these things go about unanswered until they blow up in our faces,” WISDOM vice president Willie Brisco said, referencing the civil unrest in the St. Louis-area suburb that began after a white police officer shot and killed an unarmed black teen earlier this month. “This is a proactive method we are using to address these situations.”

A message left with a Department of Corrections spokeswoman was not immediately returned.

Speakers also said that 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 amount of discipline should match the nature 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 could 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.

Another speaker, Charlotte Mertins, talked about how the system thwarted her fiancé’s rehabilitation. Hector Cubero was part of a group that robbed and killed a person in 1981. He served more than 27 years before being paroled in 2008, but the budding tattoo artist had to go back to prison two years ago for tattooing a minor who falsely claimed he was 18, Mertins said.

“My family and I live day to day feeling helpless toward Hector’s situation,” she said.

WISDOM plans to hold a monthly news conference through October to draw attention to aging inmates, overcrowding and solitary confinement, which the group likens to torture.

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