DOIN' TIME IN THE CHEESE STATE: The Prospects of Getting Out and Staying Out
By Chas. Anderson
"Doin' time" in the state of Wisconsin can be daunting. With the advent of presumptive M.R. (1994), PLRA(1996), Truth in Sentencing (2000) and T-in-S II (2003), the deck seems stacked against the prisoner—often a person of color. African Americans are incarcerated at a rate of 10x their representative population in the state, a severe risk to the 18-40 age category. In the nation, the 560,000 imprisoned Blacks constitute 1/4* of the nations prison population. That percentage is even higher in Wisconsin.
Your future as a convicted felon consists of two phases: doing time and post release. You might think all you have, to do issurvive years behind bars at Supermax, Max, Medium, or Comm.Custody and you 'II be "back on easy street" with your homies. But if you return to your previous lifestyle, whatever it was, chances are you 'II be back. (Some guys are more comfortable in the joint—as comfortable as they were in the hood, surrounded by their "guys. ")
Goin' straight is a different matter. You will be discriminated against in many ways—so be prepared. Chances for meaningful employment will be diminished. If the employment you apply for in no way relates to your conviction, you may be able to invoke EEOC guidelines: an employer may discriminate only if it is a "business necessity." (See Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended : 42 U.S.C. ;2000e [at 2J of Sept, 1990.) Wisconsin standards are codified in 111.325,335(1)(C).
The Housing Opportunity Extension Act (1996) and the Quality Housing and Work Responsibility Act (1998) require local housing authorities to permanently bar any individuals from public housing premises who were convicted of certain sex crimes and meth production. They are also given discretion in denying eligibility to virtually anyone convicted of criminal activity. This includes exclusion from Sec. #8 housing. (See 42.U.S. C. 13661.) Their wide discretion may eventually be an advantage to a released prisoner who is educated however, as there are exemptions such as length of disbarment and proof of rehabilitation. That is why AOD A programming can be meaningful. The parole board also acknowledges such.
Eligibility for public assistance and food stamps are also impacted by a criminal conviction. Specific conditions apply in Wisconsin per 49.148(4) such as WW grant of $673 mo. for job training. This program requires drug testing but not if the conviction was over 5 yeas old. In addition to banning PELL grants to prisoners, a drug related conviction renders one ineligible for any government student loans, grants or work assistance. That doesn't mean you can't give (low cost) VOC Tech, or 2 year college "Centers" a try—equipped with your GED.
The goods news is that most states—including Wisconsin (165.84(1)), allow or require the expungement of juvenile and sometimes adult records of arrest or older convictions. Employers cannot legally ask for expunged information. Voting rights will be restored to Wisconsin felons upon completion of "paper service." (See 6.03(l)(b)) Don't abdicate your restored right to participate in the political process. Driver's license privileges will be restored (upon application) unless you have been convicted of DWI or drug related matters. (See 961.50 of 2003).
The first step is to obtain release. Try a Motion for Modification to get your time cut or run concurrently. Avenues are open to T-in-S II inmates by application per SAR [Admin Code 302.32]. Those with 5-15 years served now have a more meaningful chance for parole. Older inmates can apply for special status and younger ones for boot camp. Keep your face card clean.
If you intend to go straight upon release, you need to have effective strategies in place. Take the skills you have mastered in prison and put them to good use in the computer, construction and culinary arts trades. Don't settle for a minimum wage job unless there is sure promotion or you need to build a work history. Many construction crews on the streets are comprised of ex-felons. Try a new location-Chamber of Commerce in any small town and ask if there is any need for services you can offer (automotive, tailoring, diner, etc) and ask them to send an application for a small business loan. They may be willing to help you identify and rehab an unused property on their "Main Street." A church community may also provide useful contacts and assistance.
Remember, your homies got you into the joint and they will be waiting there if you return.
TIP ("Treatment Iitstead of Prison") Legislation
Wisconsin legislators, in March 2004, almost passed a bill that would have sent non-violent drug-influenced offenders to community-based treatment instead of jail/prison. The campaign to pass such a bill has been conducted by WIS-DOM~seven congregation-based groups located in Milwaukee, Racine, Kenosha, Beloit, Green Bay, Waukesha County, and the Fox Valley. Thirteen other WI organizations have endorsed the legislation. A new bill will be introduced in the 2005 session, probably in January or February. Supporters are urged to participate in a rally in Madison in late February or early March to demonstrate to legislators a broad statewide support.
According to one Wisdom spokesman, this legislation would give non violent drug offenders "wholistic treatment--not just treatment for the addiction but treatment for the underlying causes, such as anger management, family problems, lack of job, inadequate education, whatever the offender needs to treat his or her medical and human problems. The goal is to offer offenders a path to becoming healthy, productive citizens and also to reduce the frightening rise in Wisconsin's prison population... The cost to house an inmate in general population for one year is $25,000; this involves no significant treatment. The cost to treat a person wholisticallyfor that period is less than half that amount. The T.I.P. legislation has been called a win/ win legislation."
For more information contact: WISDOM Inc; 3767 E. Underwood Ave; Cudahy,WI 53110; 1-414-8311-2070; email firstname.lastname@example.org