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Prison Reform

Changing the Narrative

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This post was contributed by Bill Van Lopik, ESTHER Community Organizer

Bill Van Lopik Teaching Social Justice

I am a social justice advocate. I fight against systemic policies, narratives and attitudes that hurt people and silence their voices. Recently I found myself confronting one such attitude that surfaced in my own house. Last week when I was talking with my 7-year old granddaughter she stated, “I was told that bad things happen to bad people.” There was a time in my life when I might have tacitly agreed with this sort of moral commentary and quickly brushed it off. However, this time the narrative which I know is very pervasive in our society provoked a much more critical response. I was not upset at her, but rather, at the confusion that this type of comment plays in her head. You see, her father is incarcerated, and I am sure in the back of her head she was trying to decide how she should feel about him. Is he really a bad person because he did a bad thing? Is he a bad a person even though he calls her several times a week to talk to her and tells her he loves her and can’t wait to see her?

Governor’s Budget Listening Session

Tuesday, December 8, 2020 - 6:00pm
Zoom Meeting

Budget Listening Session on Criminal Justice Reform

Governor Evers is holding virtual listening sessions as he prepares his 2021-23 State Budget proposal.  Wisconsinites are encouraged to offer their thoughts and recommendations for the Governor to consider.

To be allowed to participate, you need to register. You can do so at the Governor's website here. You can watch the live-stream on Wis-Eye here.

You can also submit written comments or suggestions here.

There will be a WISDOM Zoom meeting on December 8 at 5:00 pm (the hour before the Governor’s “Criminal Justice” listening session), specifically to talk about WISDOM’s priorities for criminal justice reform in the coming state budget. If you would like to join that Zoom in order to prepare for the Listening Session, please email to receive the link. Among other things, WISDOM wants the Governor to:

  • keep his campaign promise to increase Treatment Alternatives and Diversions (TAD) funding by $15 million per year
  • pledge that there will be no money for new prisons or for prison expansions
  • plan for the closing of the Green Bay Correctional Institution and redirect that money to a Justice Reinvestment Fund that can go to programs that benefit the people and communities that have been most badly hurt by mass incarceration.

Ban the Box

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People Need to Remake Their Lives

When the prison doors open and a person steps out, it's over, right? Wrong. After prison, a person has to change their life. If they don't, well, the door will be opening again. In the wrong direction.

The Box is a Barrier

People leaving prison need to get jobs, and support their families. So they go to fill out a job application and the first question is, "Have you ever been convicted of a felony?" And if they check that box, they know that most likely their application will be thrown away. How do you remake yourself if there are no jobs?

How can we as a society say we want to reduce prison recidivism when we don't allow people to get jobs? We may say that someone has "paid their debt" but as long as they can't get the job they need; they are still in debt. And the community is the one paying the debt.

We Don’t Need the Barrier

Employers, and that includes the county organizations that have this box, think that they are protecting themselves. They are afraid that people that committed one crime will commit another. They forget that people can and do turn their lives around and that the information is publicly available. Some people would then argue that if employers can find out a prospective employee has a criminal record, what does it matter if there is a box? Employers get first impressions. If that impression is of a great potential employee, they think of employment. On the other hand, what if that first impression is "felon"?

Let's help make people make great first impressions.


Department of Corrections Virtual Town Hall

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Wednesday, November 18, 2020 - 9:30am - 11:00am
Virtual Meeting

Wisconsin DOC - Violation Response & Revocation

Tying Criminal Justice Reform in WI to Our November Elections

Saturday, November 7, 2020 - 9:30am
Zoom Meeting

Criminal Justice Reform & Government Budgets

Moderator: Peggy West-Schroder, EXPO Program Director

Please register in advance for this Zoom presentation:

Register Now

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

Autumn of Action EXPO WISDOM clenched fist rising out of a firePart of the “Autumn of Action” series coordinated by WISDOM, this presentation is sponsored by WISDOM/EXPO

Vigil regarding COVID-19 in Wisconsin Prisons


Demonstrators at the Governors Mansion in MadisonOn October 19, WISDOM members (including several from ESTHER), led by EXPO (EX-incarcerated People Organizing) and SIP (Supporters of Incarcerated People) started a vigil outside the Governor's mansion.  The purpose of the vigil is to challenge the Governor to seriously address the issue of COVID-19 in Wisconsin’s prisons. The group is calling on the Governor to hold a press conference to specifically address this issue, which directly impacts more than 30,000 Wisconsinites who live and work in the state’s prisons.

We hope he acts soon, but we want to be prepared for the long haul. Read more to find out what you can do to keep this issue high on the Governor’s agenda.

ESTHER Prison Reform Task Force

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Monday, September 14, 2020 - 6:00pm - 7:30pm
Zoom Meeting

Leave us a message at to receive the Zoom link.

Call to Action: Gov. Evers and Wisconsin Prison Population


Recently, Gov. Tony Evers offered a powerful statement about how we should respond to the Black Lives Matter movement.  He said, “We must offer our compassion, we must offer our support, most of all we must offer our action.”  Now, we are asking you to contact Governor Evers to urge him to take his own advice. It is time for him to take action to reduce the prison population during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Communicate with Governor Evers to express your concern and to urge him to act!

Call his office, 608-266-1212
Email him at

Summer of Solidarity Training Session: “Extended Supervision”

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Saturday, August 1, 2020 - 10:00am - 12:00pm
Zoom Webinar

These are weekly Zoom meetings sponsored by WISDOM and EXPO covering community organizing approaches and social justice topics of concern in the state and region during the summer of 2020.

This Friday, July 31, Human Rights Watch will issue a national report on issues related to “Extended Supervision.” The report singles out Wisconsin as a state very much in need of reform - something EXPO and WISDOM have been trying to get attention to for years!  The principal author of the Human Rights Watch report will join us on Saturday, August 1, as will some members of EXPO. who will give first-hand accounts of the impact of excessive “supervision,” crimeless revocation, and the like.

To register, go to  As soon as you register, you will get an email back with the link to join the meeting on Saturday.

Tentative schedule of future topics:

  • August 8 – Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women
  • August 15 – Policing
  • August 22 – Environmental Justice

If you would like to participate, contact WISDOM ( for information about registering for the Zoom presentation.

Presentations are being recorded, and will be available at:

Summer of Solidarity Training Session: The FREE Campaign

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Saturday, July 18, 2020 - 10:00am - 12:00pm
Zoom Webinar

This week’s Summer of Solidarity session offers an opportunity to meet some of the powerful women of the FREE campaign, to learn about the issue of Housing for Women Returning from Incarceration, and to learn how we can all help.

Saturday, July 18
10:00 - Noon
Register at 
When you do, you will get an email with a link to join the meeting on Saturday.

Leaders from MICAH, EXPO and WISDOM have worked in recent years to establish the FREE Campaign.  FREE is an initiative specifically of, by and for women who have experienced incarceration.  Recently, FREE got a big boost in the form of a generous grant from the Wheaton Fransiscan Sisters, which has allowed them to hire staff specifically for the campaign.

After hundreds of conversations with women who have returned from jails or prisons, FREE has discerned that HOUSING is their top issue of concern.  It is especially important for women who are trying to reunite their families, and who cannot do so without first establishing that they have safe, stable, decent places to live for themselves and their children.

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