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ESTHER’s Prison Reform Task Force: Improving Our Criminal Justice System

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Prison Reform is Hard Work

Lisa Hanneman does not give up easily. Reforming our prisons and jails is hard, grinding work. It has demanded years of effort by Lisa and the other members of ESTHER’s Prison Reform Task Force. Lisa became involved with the group in 2016 because, in the County Jail,  her son who was a terminal brain cancer patient, could not get his cancer, anti-nausea and pain medications at the times that the doctor had prescribed. As Lisa worked to improve her son’s treatment, she discovered ESTHER, and it turned out that she was not alone. Other members of the Task Force had encountered the same problem, and the Task Force decided to take action together. You might think that this was a small problem that could be resolved easily, but you would be wrong, as Lisa discovered.

Trying for Reform Through the County Sheriff’s Office

The Outagamie County Jail is operated by the sheriff’s department. The sheriff has a good deal of autonomy, and delivering pain medication to inmates is not high on his list of priorities. Moreover, the doctors and nurses who provide the prisoners’ health care do not work directly for the sheriff’s department. They work for Correctional Healthcare Companies (CHC), a private contractor employed for that purpose. CHC is a large corporation with business all over the United States and Australia, and like any large company, it resists changing its established procedures. For months, letters were written and meetings with various officials were attended, but nothing changed.

Taking It to the Outagamie County Board

“We discovered,” Lisa said, “that you actually had to talk to the Public Safety Committee [of the County Board] … in order to get some action taken.” The Task Force met with the Public Safety Committee, where witnesses testified that the service provide by CHC had been substandard for years. Eventually, the Board hired a consultant to study the matter. The consultant came up with recommendations to which CHC had to respond, and the procedures for delivering medications to inmates were improved.

ESTHER’s Prison Reform Task Force Continues to Press for Changes

The Prison Reform Task Force was successful in this instance, but its work is far from done. Our prison system is an expensive bureaucratic boondoggle. It is often ineffective at deterring crime. It inflicts gratuitous cruelties that destroy families and disrupt communities, and its high cost places a heavy burden on our taxpayers.

ESTHER’s Prison Reform Task Force continues to work for much-needed changes to make our prisons more effective, more humane and less costly.

  • Today, we imprison people for nonviolent, drug-related offenses that could be handled more effectively through “treatment-alternative-diversion” programs. We have such a program in Outagamie County, but it could be expanded to include more offenses.
  • Today, so-called “crimeless revocations” put thousands of people behind bars unnecessarily and cruelly.

Keeping so many individuals who have mental illnesses, addictions or who are non-violent in prison does not make us safer or reduce crime rates. It causes disruptions in families and communities that promote the very conditions that lead to higher crime rates. Moreover, keeping so many non-violent people and people who need help in our jails and prisons places an unnecessary burden on our taxpayers. (It costs about $38,000 per year to keep an person in prison in Wisconsin.) ESTHER’s Prison Reform Task Force asks why we should continue spending our money on unnecessary imprisonment that does not make us safer or reduce crime rates. If you would like to support their work, please visit https://esther-foxvalley.org/ to learn how you can help.

 

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