Saturday, May 13, 2006

Lifer law is misused
Board rulings remove distinction in state law on life sentences
Barbara Lavine
Los Angeles Times Syndicate

The March 3 State Journal article, "Man released after prison sentence is reduced," discussed the case of James Jones, a prisoner sentenced to "parolable" life for a murder he committed at the age of 16. The sentencing judge told the parole board that he had expected Jones to serve 12 years, but the board repeatedly refused to act.
Finally, after Jones had served more than 22 years, the prosecutor stipulated to a resentencing as the only way to secure release. Noting that lifers eligible for parole rarely receive it, a Corrections Department spokesperson asserted: "If you sentence someone to life, expect him to get life through the parameters of statute. If you want someone to get out in 12 years, sentence him to 12 years."
This statement wrongly suggests that Michigan judges do not understand the law. In fact, the parole board's interpretation of the law is undermining reasonable judicial expectations.
Life with the possibility of parole means the defendant may be imprisoned for life, not that he or she must be or should be. By statute, parolable lifers become eligible for release when they have served either 10 or 15 years (depending on when the crime was committed). (
Historically, Michigan judges have believed that these lifers could earn their release by their own behavior. Some openly assured defendants at sentencing that life "really means 10 or 12 years." Life sentences were often assumed to be more lenient than a long term of years. Many defendants negotiated guilty pleas that resulted in life sentences because all parties understood that parole would be a realistic possibility.
"The current parole board now takes the position that "life means life." This obliterates the distinction between parolable and nonparola-ble life, and negates the intent of judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys. It also effectively wipes out the Legislature's recent attempt to soften our harsh 650 drug law. Making: drug lifers eligible for parole will be meaningless if the board refuses to exercise its discretion to release them. -
•Parole board members are no 'longer civil servants who work their ; way up'to their positions. They are ! now hired and fired by the corrections director, and most lack experience in corrections. Yet a recent statutory amendment prohibits prisoners from appealing parole denials to the courts. That makes individual board decisions and overall policies largely immune from outside review.
Board policies that deny release to "whole groups of prisoners, regardless of each individual's merit, cause harm in several ways: '
• They usurp the functions of elected judges, prosecutors and legislators. : '.vy. „;-... •• ••
• They, deny freedom to people who havepaid for their crimes, and who could be productive, taxpaying members of their families and communities, and
.They contribute greatly to the need for more prison beds', and a $1.7 billion corrections budgeL:
Hundreds of parolable lifers have already have served between 15 and 40 years. Many have excellent institutional records and could be lafely released. Convicted before sentencing, guidelines existed, some could not even receive life terms today.1 i Many have served far longer than people who committed similar of-tenses, but whose judges opted to impose 10-, 20-, or 30-year terms instead of parolable life.
The parole board's unilateral application of its own policies to prisoners sentenced decades ago is neither fair not justified. If truth-In-i sentencing" is to ,be more than'a slogan, the board'should interpret parolable life sentences as'they were intended by the judges who, imposed them. '
Barbara R. Levine heads the Prisons and Corrections Section of the State Bar of Michigan.

Chain of laws that lead to almost no parole

Page from Flynn V DOC
Shows Violent crime control Act and
parole statistics since Thompson Directive

12. That 42 U.S.C- 13701-13704, "violent crime control act of 1994" has in fact been giving the state of Wisconsin Millions of federal dollars to Keep a sub class of offenders, classified as 'violent* locked up as long as possible.

13. That Plaintiff, Flynn, is classified as a 'violent1 offender only because of the nature of his crime (armed robbery) and not because of any physical violence whatsoever. (editor's note: You are considered "violent " whether or not you use the weapon if you are carrying one. Also, if the vicitm thinks you have a weapon, you are classified as violent)

14. That former governor Tonmy G. Thompson issued a secret / secrete Policy Directi-ve to the Department of Corrections Secretary on April 28, 1994, Ordering / Directing the DOC to not release offenders classed as violent and to find any avail­able means to blocfc the releases of this sub class of prisoners who were convicted under the old law or before April 21, 1994.
See full text of 1994 memo
15. Parole statistics since Thompson Directive

1992, the board released 2,921 prisoners on parole and 648 prisoners did MR.
1993. the board released 3,624 " " 607 "
1994. " - 3,327 " " 698 "
1995. " " 3,941 " " 965 "
1996. " " 3,705 " " 1,086 "
1997. " " 3,637 " " 1,291 "
1998. " " 2,627 " " 2,006 "
1999. " " 1,567 " " 3,347 "
2000. - " 2,325 " 4,424 "
2001. " 1,872 prisoners on parole " 4,131 prisoners did MR

16. That in 1992, when the Plaintiff went to prison, the State of Wisconsin only had 7,800 prisoners confined in its prisons and that as of 2004, the state reached over 22,O0O state prisoters.

17. That the Wisconsin Parole Board does not issue real discretionary paroles to the sub class of prisoners mentioned. The board gives these offenders continued defers until they reach their MR dates or very close to the same.
Milwaukee Journal /Sentinel Articles on Truth and Sentencing
1) editorial calling for reform
2) prisoners less motivated
3) Mary Zahn 4 part series
a) about the series
b)Cost to taxpayers, Wi law toughest
c)aging prison population
d) little help fro returnees
e) alternatives

Editorial: Reform Truth and Sentencing
From the Journal Sentinel Posted: Nov. 27, 2004
Truth in sentencing, which was not supposed to increase penalties, has actually accelerated a two-decade trend toward longer prison terms, often out of proportion to the crime. This development is driving up hopelessness and bad conduct among inmates and costing the state a fortune. Worse, the state is skimping on rehabilitation, often pushing released inmates on a track that leads right back to prison. Journal Sentinel reporters Mary Zahn and Gina Barton documented this worrisome mess in a four-part series of stories that ends Monday. Gov. Jim Doyle and the Legislature - both implicated in this costly muddle - should clean it up. They must: • Loosen the state’s truth-in-sentencing law, which went into effect on the last day in 1999 as one of the most rigid in the nation. It should emulate the federal government and most states with truth in sentencing and give the state Department of Corrections a bit of wiggle room so it can reward and thus encourage good conduct and let terminally ill inmates die at home. • Re-examine the criminal statutes with the idea of shortening maximum sentences where appropriate. Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, a sponsor of truth in sentencing when he was in the Legislature, says the intent of the measure was clarity in sentencing, not longer prison terms. Yet a result, according to the Journal Sentinel analysis, is longer prison terms. The Sentencing Commission was set up as part of truth in sentencing to monitor judicial practices around the state, study their impact on the cost of corrections and make recommendations to policy-makers. It should, as soon as possible, supply the Legislature with the data it needs to make changes, with the goal of lowering maximums that are too high. • Adequately finance the Sentencing Commission. The commission could alert officials to costly trouble spots in the law, but a shoestring budget hobbles the agency. Legislative leaders should also activate the Joint Review Committee on Criminal Penalties, which they also set up as part of truth in sentencing and then left out of the loop. The committee is designed to give prison-impact statements on criminal proposals in the Legislature. Both the committee and the commission are designed to make up for the lack of planning that got the state in its present prison predicament. • Drastically step up rehabilitation efforts inside and outside prison walls. If a person is released from prison without money, without a job, without skills, without housing, without prospects, how on earth is he or she supposed to survive? Getting offenders off the prison track and onto the job track is key to cleaning up the prison mess. • Make more use of alternatives to prison - such as house arrest, mandatory drug treatment, intensive probation - for appropriate offenders. Also key is adequate funding that will allow parole agents to lower caseloads and beef up their community supervision. In the era of indeterminate prison terms, a judge decided how much total time a convicted defendant would spend both in prison and on parole, and a parole board decided how to split the time between the two forms of supervision. Under truth in sentencing, the judge takes over the job of the parole board, but at sentencing. The virtue of this method is clarity: All parties know at the start of a sentence the exact length of a prison term. But what has been sorely missing in law and order in Wisconsin is planning. Lawmakers toughen criminal laws helter-skelter, without any consideration of the impact of the changes on prisons or the treasury - a big reason the state now faces a $1.6 billion deficit it must close in the next state budget. As attorney general, Doyle pushed truth in sentencing, so he can’t escape culpability for having failed to adequately plan for it. Of course, some very bad people deserve to stay in prison for a long, long time - some for the rest of their lives. Clarifying sentencing should not change this. The bill for the inadvertent lengthening of sentences will ring up to $1.8 billion through 2025. The prison system is on track to rival the University of Wisconsin System in tax support, Zahn and Barton noted. Doyle and lawmakers must take steps to avert that awful outcome.

Original URL:
Inmates less motivated, wardens find With no way to earn time off, desperation is more common, they say
By MARY ZAHN Posted: Nov. 21, 2004 Motivating inmates to enroll in prison drug and alcohol treatment programs and other rehabilitation programs has become increasingly difficult under truth in sentencing, according to some state prison wardens. "They know they are not going to get out any earlier, so they simply don't want to take the time to do the programming and don't want to invest in it," said Jane Gamble, who was warden of Kettle Moraine Correctional Institution in Plymouth until her retirement this summer. "It is a shame, because we have excellent programs here." Truth in sentencing, which applies to anyone who committed a crime on or after Dec. 31, 1999, requires inmates to serve every day of their prison term with no chance from the parole board for early release. Instead of time off for good behavior, the law adds time on for bad behavior. Of the 168 offenders who refused to participate in one drug and alcohol program last year at Kettle Moraine, 131 were truth-in-sentencing inmates, she said. "That is a dramatic difference from what it was before," Gamble said. "They go out and they will probably have to do the treatment somewhere on the streets if they can find treatment," she said. "We are just kind of moving the problem along with the offender." Even with the refusals, she added, the treatment programs at Kettle Moraine have long waiting lists. One program, she said is full through August 2005 and another had a waiting list of about two months. Budget pressures Gamble and other wardens who were interviewed said they also had long waiting lists for rehabilitative programs and are seeing inmates coming in with longer prison terms under truth in sentencing. "We have had to shift treatment and education dollars just for the beds," said Daniel Bertrand, the warden of Green Bay Correctional Institution. "We have lost positions - inmate complaint examiners, maintenance positions. I have about 300 inmates who don't have a job or program because there are just not enough staff." Meanwhile, Bertrand and other wardens said, inmate disciplinary problems have increased along with psychological problems. Additional segregation cells have been added at Green Bay to deal with the problems, he said. Gary McCaughtry, who retired this month as warden of Waupun Correctional Institution, said that he sees pros and cons about truth in sentencing but that the law does not "produce an incentive for inmates to participate in programs and try to earn their way out of prison by rehabilitation means." 'How much is enough?' "I think incapacitation is a legitimate goal of the criminal justice system," he said. "People who are away from society can't victimize. It's really a challenge from a public policy standpoint to come up with the right amount of incapacitation for the right individual. How much is enough? That is a very good question." Some inmates have shown signs of increased desperation, he said, because they know there is no way to earn their way out of prison. "From the public standpoint, they are going to start knowing more ex-inmates," McCaughtry said. "They are going to be coming out. They are going to be in their neighborhoods. They will be cooking their food, pumping their gas. There are just going to be more of them out there. We have to protect the public by keeping them in the best shape when they go out."

Truth in Sentencing 4 Part Series by Mary Zahn, of Milwaukee Journal/Sentinal

About The Series

PART 1: Wisconsin's truth-in-sentencing law will cost taxpayers an estimated $1.8 billion for inmates admitted through 2025 if current trends continue, as offenders serve more time in prison and under supervision. With no parole board involved and wide latitude for judges, Wisconsin's law is one of the toughest in the country. Wardens report more disciplinary problems and inadequate treatment and job programs. Community supervision agents report caseloads of 60 or more with few direct services to offer their clients.
PART 2: With longer sentences, more inmates are aging - and dying - in prison. But even for a terminally ill inmate, early release is next to impossible. In other cases, district attorneys routinely block requests. The state Supreme Court has upheld the law's limitations on early release.
PART 3: Offenders who are released into the community find long waiting lists for help with employment, housing and drug treatment - the three keys to success on the outside. Many end up back in prison, often for violating the conditions of their supervision.
PART 4: While truth in sentencing keeps criminals in prison for longer terms, the restorative justice movement works to help them change their thinking and behavior, by bringing offenders face to face with victims and survivors. .

Tougher sentencing law carries hefty price
Estimated $1.8 billion through 2025
By MARY ZAHN and GINA BARTON;Posted: Nov. 20, 2004;First of four parts
A state law that gives criminals virtually no chance for early release will cost Wisconsin taxpayers an estimated $1.8 billion for inmates admitted through 2025 if current trends continue, a Journal Sentinel analysis of prison and court records has found.
The prison system is on track to rival the state university system in annual tax dollars as the cost of longer prison terms and extended supervision in the community steamrolls through the years. A dozen years ago, Wisconsin taxpayers invested three times as much money in universities as in prisons.
Wisconsin implemented one of the nation's toughest truth-in-sentencing laws four years ago without ever assessing the cost. Today, thousands of inmates are on waiting lists for prison jobs, education and treatment programs. Wardens report more bad conduct and hopelessness among offenders.
When they are released, inmates report to parole officers with average caseloads of about 60 who have little to offer in direct aid other than free bus tickets, hygiene kits and referrals to agencies with more long waiting lists.
When truth in sentencing sailed through the Legislature in 1998, Wisconsin's crime rate had fallen 14.3% over the preceding five years. From 1998 to 2003, that trend continued, with a decline of 12.4%.
Supporters hailed the law as a more honest system that would put judges - not the parole board - in charge of how much time offenders would spend in prison and then under extended supervision, formerly known as parole. Crime victims would know exactly how long the criminal would be behind bars.
Critics warned it would be a budget disaster for taxpayers and would not make communities safer without additional prison treatment and community supervision dollars. No additional money was appropriated by the Legislature for the new law.
For crimes that occur on or after Dec. 31, 1999, the law requires offenders to serve every day of their sentences. It eliminates time off for good behavior and adds prison time for bad behavior. Judges must tack on a term of extended supervision equal to at least 25% of the prison time.
The Legislature also eliminated the parole board's role for truth-in-sentencing cases. For earlier crimes, the board can release inmates it believes have been rehabilitated after serving at least 25% of their sentences, and inmates must be released after serving two-thirds of their terms.
'People do stupid things'
Harold Hudson, 22, is among the thousands of inmates sentenced under the new law. A 10th-grade dropout, he is serving a 10-year prison term for an armed robbery that he committed when he was 18. His only prior record was a juvenile arrest for possession of marijuana.
Armed with a miniature baseball bat, Hudson and an accomplice who carried a broken, unloaded pistol robbed a terrified clerk at a Milwaukee Walgreens store and fled with about $850. The men had been smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol and decided to do the robbery because they were broke and unemployed, records show.
Under the old parole system, Hudson could have been considered for release after serving 21/2 years and would have to have been paroled after serving six years and eight months.
Under the new system, judges sentence offenders to a set amount of time in prison plus additional time on extended supervision. When Hudson is released, he will be supervised for five years. He can be sent back to prison for that entire amount of time if he violates the rules at any point during his supervision. Time served in the community does not count.
"I was young and just made a mistake," Hudson said. "I'm not saying I didn't deserve prison. I did. But I got a bigger sentence than what I need to be rehabilitated. People do stupid things when they are young, and they learn from them."
Projecting the costs
To assess the impact of truth in sentencing, the Journal Sentinel interviewed more than 100 people over six months, including judges, victims, parole agents, offenders, politicians, defense attorneys, prosecutors, community advocates and corrections officials.
In addition, the newspaper reviewed hundreds of court records and analyzed a database of 123,087 inmate records kept by the state Department of Corrections. That database was used in creating a mathematical model to analyze trends and estimate the added cost of more prison and extended supervision over time.
The law will cost taxpayers an estimated $398 million extra just for the inmates who have entered the system in the first 41/2 years under truth in sentencing, as the time they would have been released under the old system comes and goes.
The annual cost will exceed $50 million by 2010, the estimates show, and the cumulative cost will approach $576 million in 2014 as more inmates enter the system.
The projections are conservative, in that inflation was not factored in, nor was the cost of offenders ending up in prison again for violating conditions of extended supervision. They also assume that current crime and sentencing patterns will continue.
Sentences got longer
Without the parole board involved, truth in sentencing places ultimate responsibility on judges to determine how long an offender will be in prison and on supervision. Judges were encouraged in training sessions to hone down prison terms and to consider that every day would have to be served behind bars.
However, the newspaper's analysis shows that both prison and extended supervision time significantly increased, and that offenders are serving more time locked up than under the parole system.
"One of the misconceptions at the time, and I think still is, is that I and other proponents wanted longer sentences," said Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, who at the time was one of the legislative sponsors of truth in sentencing.
"In some cases, like with sex offenders, that was something I was interested in," Walker said recently. "But overall the primary purpose was to just have the certainty of knowing exactly how long someone was going to be in prison."
The cost of the bill was not estimated at the time because there was "no way of calculating what the judicial response would be," Walker said.
Longer supervision terms
While the law requires judges to give an extended supervision time equal to at least 25% of the prison sentence, records show that judges statewide are tacking on much more - sometimes double the prison time.
"How many of them are going to make 10 years of community supervision without bouncing in and out of prison, given the generally poor supervision environment?" asked Walter Dickey, a University of Wisconsin Law School professor who served as the state corrections secretary from 1983 to 1987.
Anthony Washington, a high school dropout with no job skills, is typical of offenders who keep revolving through the criminal justice system. He was sentenced in April 2003 to eight years in prison for burglary and as a habitual criminal and to seven years on extended supervision. There were no violent crimes on his record.
Washington, 39, who has been in prison in the past, told a judge that he was able to stay crime-free for about two years. Then he lost one job after another when employers found he was a convicted felon. He turned to panhandling, drug use and then finally to the burglary, which yielded him $40 in cash.
"I have very little means of survival," Washington said at his sentencing. "I don't even have a change of underwear . . . I keep getting sent back (to prison) . . . I know what not to do, but what to do?"
'They feel there is no hope'
Wardens and other prison employees cite an increase in bad-conduct reports under truth in sentencing, more psychological problems and a pervasive sense of hopelessness among inmates who can do nothing to earn their way out of prison early.
The newspaper's analysis shows that as a group, inmates sentenced between 2000 and 2002 under truth in sentencing had 34% to 59% more major bad-conduct reports, compared with inmates admitted under the old parole system.
"I truly believe they feel there is no hope," said Kim Schauer, an officer at the Green Bay Correctional Institution and a 10-year veteran. "It doesn't matter if you are a good or decent inmate or if you are a troubled inmate. There is no more good time. They can't get out early."
Alternative programs
With budget pressure mounting, less-expensive programs that provide rehabilitation and early release for non-violent offenders have grown rapidly, from 106 to 362 beds since truth in sentencing began. Those who qualify for these six-month drug and rehab programs - which include boot camps for male and female offenders - can theoretically get out in a year or less. A judge must find them eligible at sentencing and can specify when they can be enrolled.
About 276 inmates are on the waiting list for openings. Some will be released before they get to the top of the list.
"We implement truth in sentencing, and the light goes on and we realize what a disaster it is," said Dickey, the former corrections secretary. "But instead of confronting what a disaster it is, what we do is we slide open the back door quietly, trying to have a safety valve. It's obviously an improvement but signifies our unwillingness to take this on more squarely."
Parole agents strained
For parole agents, who also function as probation agents, growing caseloads and increasingly limited resources have made their jobs even more difficult. Over the past six months, as reporters spent time with some of them, their desks were stacked high with paperwork, and they had little to offer in terms of direct services. Most of their clients were high school dropouts with few job skills, no money and often no place to live.
One offender had been referred for mental health services in August but by the end of October still had not reached the top of the list. Another who had been living in cramped quarters with relatives was on the list for housing help for several months before making it to the top.
By that time, he had been arrested on a new charge and was headed back to prison.
Even bus tickets are at a premium. Agents sometimes receive just enough for one per month for each of their 60 clients.
"I tell my offenders to make them last," agent Julie Nicholson said. "Use transfers. Get rides from friends."
The get-tough '90s
Wisconsin was one of about 40 states that passed versions of truth in sentencing in the 1990s, according to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics. The movement was due, in part, to the federal government providing more federal funds to build prisons for states that kept violent prisoners locked up for 85% of their sentences and a "get tough on crime" mentality that swept the country, authorities said.
Wisconsin got even tougher, according to Don Stemen, senior program analyst from the Vera Institute of Justice in New York. The non-profit, non-partisan group works with governments on criminal justice reforms and has surveyed states on the impact of harsher prison terms.
Stemen said Wisconsin appears to be the only state in the nation with this combination of factors for truth in sentencing:
· Requiring both violent offenders and non-violent property and drug offenders to serve 100% of their prison time.
· Eliminating any role for its parole board.
· Having no mechanism to force judges to sentence within specific ranges.
No more 'safety valve'
"Frankly I thought the parole system was working very well at the time," said Thomas Barland, who was an Eau Claire County circuit judge when he led a legislatively mandated committee to work on ways to implement the law.
"However, I recognized that the public was cynical regarding sentencing, because when someone was sentenced to 10 years, he or she might serve as little as a quarter of that time," said Barland, who is now retired and works as a reserve judge. "The downside to truth in
sentencing is that it produces a rigidity in prison time served, because the parole board formerly acted as a safety valve when prison population became too great or an individual prisoner showed rehabilitative promise."
In the years before truth in sentencing took effect, parole grants were steadily declining, parole board records show. In 1995, the board granted parole to 4,046 inmates. By 1999, that number had dwindled to 1,231.
Only a handful of lawmakers voted against truth in sentencing when it became law in 1998, with the support of then-Gov. Tommy G. Thompson and then-Attorney General Jim Doyle.
"I believe very strongly in truth in sentencing," said Doyle, who is now governor, this month. "The victim knows how many years the person is going to get. The defendant knows what the requirements are going to be - how many years he or she will be incarcerated followed by what period of supervision. Truth in sentencing is a lot better than un-truth in sentencing."
State Sen. Fred Risser (D-Madison) is one of the few legislators still in office who voted against the measure.
"It was the mentality of lock 'em up and throw away the key," Risser said. "They didn't use any logic; it was just emotion. The counter-argument was, how do you put a fiscal note on the amount of crime you can avoid if you put these people in prison."
Ready or not
Because of worries that the new law could be a financial disaster without changes in the criminal code, implementation was delayed until Dec. 31, 1999, and a Criminal Penalties Study Committee was appointed to make recommendations on changes needed before truth in sentencing would take effect. Barland, who was chairman of the committee, said the idea was to set the maximum prison term for a particular crime at roughly equal to the maximum time that inmates would have served behind bars under the old parole system.
The committee's report was presented to the Legislature in August 1999. Besides beefed-up extended supervision, the committee recommended lower maximum prison time for most major felonies, eliminating minimum penalties for most felonies so judges could opt for probation, providing judges with guidelines to help them reduce their prison sentences and creating a sentencing commission to help monitor the law's implementation.
But political gridlock kept the recommendations from becoming law for more than three years. As a result, on Dec. 31, 1999, truth in sentencing went into effect with even higher maximum sentences than had been in place before.
Why? Because when the law was originally passed in 1998, the Legislature had voted to increase the maximum penalties for most felonies by 50%, to accommodate the new reality that an offender's "sentence" would include both prison time and extended supervision afterward.
"The judges got mixed signals from the legislators and the politicians," said Victor Manian, a reserve judge who retired as chief judge in Milwaukee County earlier this year. "On the one hand they were screaming, 'We've got to get tough with criminals, and judges better give them sentences that are appropriate to the crime, and they are going to have to serve every day of it.' And then on the back side they were saying, 'What are you guys doing? You're filling up the prisons, and we can't keep up with it.' "
Caught in gridlock
Offenders such as Alexander Grubor, 52, a married father of three, faced significantly more time in prison and on community supervision than they would have if the Barland report had been implemented, the newspaper's analysis shows.
Grubor was among an estimated 8,200 offenders who would be sentenced under the harsher penalties. The Barland report, with its reduced sentences, was finally implemented for crimes occurring on or after Feb. 1, 2003.
Grubor, who is from New Berlin and had no previous criminal record, served three years in prison and 18 months of supervision for possession with intent to deliver after police found about 4 ounces of marijuana in his basement. If the Barland report had been implemented at the time of his offense, Grubor's maximum prison time would have been 18 months.
The marijuana was found during a police search. Grubor maintained it was for his personal use. Police said Grubor told them he was selling marijuana to make extra money, a statement Grubor adamantly denies making. A jury found him guilty.
Grubor had to serve his entire prison term despite prison records that describe him as a model inmate who "is very reliable and performs with minimal supervision, can be counted upon when needed."
"My family was devastated," Grubor said recently. "I've never been in jail, and I've never been in any trouble. I was never a threat to the community.
"We do need laws, and we do need prisons. But prisons in my opinion are for violent offenders."

Once released, inmates find little help
Resources remain scarce for those striving to restart

Posted: Nov. 27, 2004
Third of four parts
Hill's parole officer was trying to get permission for him to move to Illinois, but it hadn't come through. She gave him two local bus tickets and the names of some shelters and told him to check back in a week.
Hill spent his first night of freedom homeless.
When Ricky Hill was released from prison in October, he had $14 in his pocket and nowhere to live. His wife and six children were waiting in Chicago, but he wasn't allowed to leave the state.
"I thought when we get out, they were supposed to give us some help, some money or something. They didn't do nothing," he said. Before truth in sentencing took effect, a committee mandated by the Legislature worked to identify and head off potential problems with the law's implementation. Among its recommendations was more help for people, such as Hill, when they left prison.
"Wisconsin must strengthen its probation system and develop credible alternatives to prison," the report says.
Its authors hoped that extended supervision - the new name for parole - would be a vast improvement over the old system. The committee recommended that Milwaukee parole officers' caseloads be reduced to 17 and that their budgets be greatly increased in order to help former inmates succeed on the outside.
It hasn't happened.
"The failure to do this because of budget pressures is going to be costly to the state in the long run," said Thomas Barland, who was an Eau Claire County circuit judge when he led the committee.
While the Department of Corrections has begun some programs to address the needs in the four years since truth in sentencing took effect, resources for ex-inmates remain scarce. Many of those released on supervision find themselves back in prison. Most have not been convicted of a new crime; they have simply failed to meet the conditions of supervision, such as keeping appointments with their agents. They may have no work history, no driving privileges and nowhere to live.
Portage County Circuit Judge Frederic Fleishauer believes the system is part of the problem.
"We take their driver's license away and then are surprised when they don't have work," he said. "We preclude them from accomplishing exactly what we're hoping to accomplish."
At the same time, offenders are starting to leave prison with longer supervision terms under truth in sentencing, which gives offenders almost no chance for early release. The law requires extended supervision equal to at least 25% of the prison term, but many judges are far exceeding that.
By 2011, the truth-in-sentencing law will mean more than 2 million extra days of community supervision per year, according to a Journal Sentinel analysis based on records from the Department of Corrections. For inmates admitted through 2025, the extra days of supervision and prison time will cost state taxpayers an estimated $1.8 billion if current trends continue.
"I don't think there's a plan," said Barron County Circuit Judge Edward R. Brunner. "We're doing nothing for them. It's not a wise use of money, and there's no guarantee we're any safer."
With 69,600 offenders on probation, parole or extended supervision this year, the state's parole officers already have caseloads averaging around 60, with some approaching 90. The Department of Corrections is seeking to add 51 officers by June 2007.
30 days to find a job
Across the state, parole officers are charged with helping recently released offenders turn the three keys to success on the outside: employment, housing and drug treatment.
"If they don't find a job within 30 days, it's almost a self-fulfilling prophecy," said the Rev. Joseph Ellwanger, who serves on the board of directors at Project Return, a non-profit agency that helps former prisoners rejoin society.
"If they don't have a job, they're going to go right back to where they were. The state is learning the hard way," he said.
Matthew English is learning the hard way, too. English, 21, said he served as the getaway driver when some friends robbed several Milwaukee taverns because they didn't have jobs and needed money. English, a high school dropout, spent two years in prison and is now serving an additional year on extended supervision.
"I was being stupid," English said.
Over the summer, English managed to get hired as a part-time telemarketer, but he kept getting sent home because he wasn't selling enough. So he quit.
"It's like a revolving door," English said. "Once you get out, you can't get a job. They don't want a felon even flipping hamburgers at McDonald's for minimum wage.Days before I was released I would sit in my room, turn the TV off and think about what I was going to do. How was I going to live? Basically I take everything one day at a time. I don't look to the future."
Searching for housing
Although he remains unemployed, English has a roof over his head. His sister in Brown Deer is allowing him to stay with her.
Not every ex-convict has a family willing to help, and even those who can't always find housing. Federal rules prohibit felons from living in public housing for five years after the crime. Some public housing facilities won't allow sex offenders, no matter how much time has passed. A family member or friend who lets one stay could be evicted. To protect their victims, released inmates with domestic violence convictions or restraining orders against them often are not allowed to move back home.
As a last resort, a parole officer may refer someone to the Salvation Army or the Milwaukee Rescue Mission, but space isn't always available there, either.
The Department of Corrections has a few emergency and transitional housing programs that can provide shelter to people on supervision for up to 90 days. The demand far outweighs the supply, however, and the waiting lists are long.
'Wouldn't call it clean'
Gregory P. Hayes was lucky enough to get a space in one of the Department of Corrections' emergency apartments in July, while serving 18 months of extended supervision. In and out of custody since 1995, he has a history of funding his drug habit through garage burglaries, according to court records.
"The Price Is Right" played on a tiny television set in the sparsely furnished apartment when parole officer Ken Ryback checked in on Hayes, whose days of temporary lodging were nearly up.
"How's the job search going?" Ryback asked.
"Applied at a couple temp places," Hayes replied.
"Have you been using drugs?" Ryback asked.
Hayes shook his head.
"How long have you been clean, then?" Ryback asked.
"Wouldn't call it clean," Hayes replied.
Ryback rephrased his question: "How long has it been since you've used drugs?"
"Close to a month or something," Hayes said.
Ryback said a few words to encourage Hayes in his job search, then reminded him that he would need to find somewhere else to live within the next few days. Ryback headed for the door, knowing all too well what would happen once Hayes was kicked out of the apartment. Records show it's happened before: Hayes uses drugs, then sits outside Walgreens begging for money. The police know he's on supervision, so they hit him with a ticket for loitering, panhandling or public drinking and pick him up. He sinks deeper into debt and gets no closer to stability.
Sure enough, by September, police had used DNA to link Hayes to two more burglaries, and he was arrested again. In November, Hayes pleaded guilty to two burglary counts. He is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 10.
"It's going to be a hard cycle for him to break," Ryback said.
Need for treatment programs
Hayes is among thousands of released inmates who need to conquer their addictions to succeed. Although drug treatment programs are operating inside the state prisons, the waiting lists are long, and many people are released before they are accepted.
The Department of Corrections estimates that 70% of offenders entering the prison system need drug or alcohol treatment. An average of 1,061 offenders still needing treatment will re-enter Milwaukee County every year, according to department projections. On the outside, they find more waiting lists.
"It is . . . essential that probation and extended supervision officers have the funding to see that their clients receive the alcohol and drug treatment that so many need," Barland said recently. "In the absence of that we are going to have higher incarceration rates and probably a higher crime rate than would otherwise be the case."
It's a problem the Department of Corrections is working to solve, Superintendent Matthew J. Frank said.
"What we need to do here is make sure when someone is released if they need alcohol and drug treatment that we get them through a program," he said. "As we look at the system, we need to be focused on re-entry and reintegration. This is a change in philosophy at the department."
A new program at the Sturtevant Transitional Facility is one of several recently begun by the department to address that need. There, addicts who have violated the terms of their supervision receive a final chance to avoid prison.
"If someone has an alcohol problem, putting him in prison isn't going to help," Superintendent Deb Chambers said.
The 90-day program at Sturtevant can accommodate 50 men. Because the program started in January, statistics about its success have not yet been compiled, Chambers said.
In addition, the state this year won a $23 million federal grant to improve access to drug treatment in Milwaukee County. Gov. Jim Doyle said in August that the grant would help an estimated 3,000 people, including 1,000 offenders on supervision, over three years.
Hard road to recovery
While people who have completed treatment are less likely to commit new crimes, it often takes more than one stint in rehab to cure an addiction, experts agree.
Joleen Taliaferro, 46, said she has graduated from drug and alcohol treatment programs nine or 10 times. Her first arrest came in 1976, when she was 18.
Her most recent felony conviction stems from a drunken fight during which she beat her ex-boyfriend's girlfriend into the hospital. She says the other woman hit her first. Taliaferro already was on supervision for drug and weapons charges at the time.
"I beat the crap out of her," she said. "I was drunk. I hit that lady 46 or 47 times."
Taliaferro said she has conquered the crack cocaine problem that led to both dealing and trading sex for the drug. She still drinks the occasional beer, however, despite an alcohol addiction so severe that she used to drink a fifth and a half of Bacardi rum daily.
Taliaferro hopes she'll make it but is far from certain what the future holds.
"The drug game is a dirty game," she said. "I'm getting back into church now, and I just pray every day."

Door on early release closes tightly
Even inmates near death often find sentencing law unyielding

By MARY ZAHN and GINA;Posted: Nov. 21, 2004;Second of four parts;
Dexter H. Harris, 47, fought alcoholism his whole life. Now he was in prison for the second time for drunken driving, and cancer was spreading through his body.
After he had surgery last fall, his family began pleading that he be released to die at home.
Then Harris ran into a little-known provision of a state law implemented four years ago - called truth in sentencing - a law that experts say is one of the harshest in the country.
The law requires that violent and non-violent offenders serve every day of their prison terms. It also eliminates any role for the parole board, which in the past could release offenders who served as little as 25% of their sentences. Early release could be awarded if the board believed an inmate had been rehabilitated, was terminally ill or was no longer a danger to society because of age or infirmity.
Terminally ill inmates such as Harris must now get two doctors to sign affidavits stating that the offender will die within six months - something prison doctors say is almost impossible to predict. Inmates then must get approval from prison officials to petition the sentencing court for a release. They are not entitled to legal help.
While an extreme example, Harris' case illustrates how difficult it is for inmates even facing death to be released from prison early under truth in sentencing.
Petitions for clemency from inmates who believe they have learned their lesson and have served most of their sentence are being routinely blocked by district attorneys. A recent state Supreme Court decision upheld the limitations on early release under truth in sentencing.
In short, the door - for even model prisoners, or aged or ill inmates who want to plead their cases - is tightly closed.
"This was a get-tough-on-crime law. The end," said Barron County Circuit Judge Edward R. Brunner, who signed the petition for Harris' release. "It was, let's put everyone away and who cares what happens to them next. Out of sight, out of mind.
"It's only now that legislators and others are beginning to realize the serious cost to taxpayers and the cost in real lives."
An informal survey of 22 judges around the state found that while many like being able to determine exactly how many years an inmate will serve in prison, that power has become a double-edged sword.
"For me, it boils down to the crystal ball," said Dane County Circuit Judge William Foust, who said he is most troubled by the offenders who receive 10 years or more. "Everyone knows that people change. With truth in sentencing, we don't have a mechanism to evaluate that change the way we had when we had the parole board.
"This business is really about predicting future human behavior, and no one has a perfect crystal ball when it comes to that."
Under the law, judges sentence offenders to an exact number of years in prison and an additional number of years on extended supervision to be served in the community. Some inmates can be released early if they are placed in a short-term treatment program such as boot camp and complete it successfully.
Judges were encouraged by a committee studying how to implement the law to modify their sentences to roughly what offenders would have served under the old parole system.
However, a computer analysis of Department of Corrections and court records by the Journal Sentinel shows that did not happen, and that offenders are serving more time in prison and on community supervision than under the old system.
Harris, for example, who was sentenced to three years in prison on his most recent charge, would have been eligible for parole consideration after serving nine months and would have had to be released after serving about 24 months under the old parole system.
"Are we better off with truth in sentencing? I believe the answer to be yes, because we have more predictability and more control over offenders," Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Elsa Lamelas said. "I frankly feel more comfortable with the notion that there is not a parole board there that may be susceptible to fiscal pressure in the release of offenders. That is s omething that gives me confidence."
Prison population aging
Older inmates such as Harris have increased in number as sentence lengths have increased for both violent and non-violent offenders. The population of inmates 40 and older has more than tripled, from 1,711 in December 1993 to 6,516 in December 2003.
In addition, corrections officials are proposing to open two special geriatric units in existing prisons - in effect, small nursing homes for criminals.
"More inmates are dying in prison due to many different chronic conditions and the imposition of longer prison sentences, creating a need for geriatric and hospice services," a Department of Corrections budget document states.
Release due to the infirmities of old age are limited under the law. In order to petition a court for release, an inmate must be at least 65 and have served at least five years in prison or be at least 60 and have served at least 10 years in prison.
Prison medical care expenditures have more than doubled in five years, from $30,354,830 in fiscal 1999 to $75,595,500 in the year that ended on June 30, 2004, state records show.
Releases blocked
The broadest release provision in the law allows offenders to petition a court for sentence adjustment after they have served 75% or 85% of their time in prison, depending on the crime.
However, authorities said that district attorneys statewide are routinely blocking these petitions. Under truth in sentencing, if a district attorney objects to the petition, it cannot be granted. The same is true if victims in some sexual assault cases object.
"The courts in our area are overwhelmed with volume, and this adds one more thing," Dane County Circuit Judge Daniel Moeser said. "There are no good guidelines or standards or direction. So you have an out to say no if the DA objects. I think the DAs kind of do it for the same reason. They are overwhelmed and overworked, too."
La Crosse County District Attorney Scott Horne, who is also president of the Wisconsin District Attorneys Association, said he supports the district attorney and victim veto provision in the law and said that each case in his office is reviewed on its merits.
"I think what the Legislature is saying is if there is going to be a time cut, there ought to be a consensus that it is an appropriate case for reduction," Horne said.
"From our perspective in this office, we don't blindly say no. We do confer about it and decide what our position on the case ought to be, and I assume most DAs would take that responsibility seriously. It's not something that we would easily agree to, I will say that."
Horne said his office has not received many of these requests, and he could not remember whether he had approved any.
Most judges interviewed for this report said the district attorney in their counties has objected to every single request for sentence modification.
Waukesha County Circuit Judge Mark Gempeler said that even if the requests aren't opposed by prosecutors, judges aren't likely to grant them.
"Judges have to run for office every six years," he said. "Why would a reasonable judge want to swim upstream? It's a question of judicial survival, but it's also a matter of giving the public what it wants."
Supreme Court weighs in
The Wisconsin Supreme Court will hear arguments in December in a case challenging the right of district attorneys to veto these release requests and other matters relating to requests for early release by truth-in-sentencing inmates.
However, in a unanimous decision this year, the high court signaled its reluctance to change the law, citing legislative intent.
The case involved James Crochiere, 29, who pleaded guilty to one count of reckless endangering safety in Marathon County in 2001 and was sentenced to three years in prison and five years on community supervision. He refused to turn his truck off when stopped by police. When the officer tried to remove the keys from the ignition, Crochiere drove away, dragging the officer, who then fell to the ground, records state. Crochiere had two previous convictions for drunken driving as well as other misdemeanor convictions.
Once in prison, Crochiere earned the privilege of working off prison grounds. He got a job maintaining state parks for 24 cents an hour.
After serving 18 months without incident, he petitioned the Marathon County Circuit Court for release, arguing that his previous job, which paid $10 an hour, was available to him and that his child-support obligations were going unpaid while he was in prison.
His situation and apparent rehabilitation was "a new factor" that the court should be allowed to consider in deciding to release him - something the old parole board would have done, Crochiere's attorney, Stephen Weiss, argued in his brief to the Supreme Court after lower courts denied his client's request for release.
"There is simply no logic in a sentencing system that does not provide for some form of review and release due to changed circumstances," Weiss argued.
In its June decision, the state Supreme Court stated:
"To do what Crochiere asks of us would turn circuit courts into parole boards, a result that would change the role of the circuit courts and be inconsistent with the Legislature's intent.
"The Legislature intended that conduct subsequent to incarceration would not reduce an inmate's sentence."
Underfunded commission
As part of truth in sentencing, the Legislature created a state Sentencing Commission to collect data on judicial practices and advise policy-makers on how the law is being implemented.
However, the commission is struggling on a shoestring budget and is not expected to begin analyzing sentencing data until next year. The panel has funding for only two positions, an executive director and a deputy director.
When salaries and benefits are eliminated from the commission's $235,000 budget, it is left with only about $25,000 for data collection and outside help, said Michael Connelly, the commission's executive director.
Connelly was not even hired until January 2004, more than three years after truth in sentencing was implemented. The commission has 19 members representing a cross-section of the criminal justice system, including judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys and victim advocates.
Connelly said that by January, the commission expects to provide judges with new sentencing guideline work sheets to help them decide which offenders should be sent to prison and for how long. However, judges are not required to follow the guidelines, which are only advisory. That is one reason Wisconsin's truth-in-sentencing law is considered by experts to be one of the toughest in the nation.
Records show that as of June, more than 50% of the 241 circuit court judges in the state failed to use the currentsentencing guideline work sheets, which have been in place since February 2003. Those numbers have increased in recent months, Connelly said. The work sheets list factors such as age, previous criminal record and type of crime and then suggest a sentencing range. The completed work sheets were to be returned to the commission for analysis.
"The judges are as unguided as ever," said Walter Dickey, a University of Wisconsin Law School professor who was secretary of the Department of Corrections from 1983 to 1987. "They are unguided by either numerical data or policy guidance."
Gov. Jim Doyle is in favor of mandatory sentencing ranges for judges.
"I think there should be judicial discretion. I think the judicial discretion should be much more limited, and that people with similar criminal history backgrounds and who have committed similar crimes should be looking at roughly the same time.
"This is a balance. I do not believe that there should be a computer that kicks out a sentence. Nor do I think there should be wide open anything from zero to 20."
Going home to die
For Dexter Harris, death was his ticket out of prison.
Brunner, the Barron County judge, approved Harris' release on June 9 after family members said they were finally able to get two doctors to agree that he had six months or less to live. However, because of problems arranging community hospice care for Harris, he was not released from prison until July 6. He lived for five weeks, said Harris' sister Betty Moore, who cared for him along with other family members in her Kenosha County home until his death.
"It was so heart-wrenching," said Sarah Bohner, another sister of Harris. "You could have poured a cup of water in his sunken shoulders, and it would have stayed.
"He wasn't a danger. I want to see the law fixed so that other families don't go through what we did, because it's one of the most pitiful things in the world."

Another road to justice
Programs seek to change offenders' thinking, behavior
By GINA BARTON and MARY ZAHN ;; Posted: Nov. 28; 2004 Fourth of four parts
Green Bay - The group of men listens, mesmerized, as Lynn BeBeau talks about the last time she saw her husband alive.
I told him the same thing I always did: 'I love you. Be careful.' "
Her husband grinned back.
"Honey, don't worry about me. Me and God are like this." He held up two crossed fingers and smiled.
Hours later, the Eau Claire police officer was shot to death in the line of duty.
The hulking men in prison greens sit perfectly still as BeBeau fights back tears. They are murderers, armed robbers, drug dealers, child molesters.
Later, convicted killer Ruben Herrera tells BeBeau what her story meant to him.
"I hear you talking about forgiveness. That would be something I would ask for, but it would be selfish," he said in a voice racked with emotion. "I don't have any right to ask for forgiveness or to forgive myself. I don't even know how to go about doing that."
As judges follow the state Legislature's mandate of truth in sentencing, giving prisoners little hope for early release, a movement to help criminals change their thinking - and their behavior - is under way. BeBeau is one of its foot soldiers. Another is former state Supreme Court Justice Janine Geske. Another is Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney David Lerman. Their cohorts fan out across the state, a counterpoint to the proponents of truth in sentencing who believe that longer prison and supervision terms are the answers to the crime problem.
"There are two different philosophies at work," Dane County Circuit Judge Angela Bartell said. "Do people need to be treated, monitored, and considered human resources, or just locked up?"
Department of Corrections Secretary Matthew J. Frank said the two aren't necessarily mutually exclusive.
"Truth in sentencing is not inconsistent with giving judges more options. . . . The challenge here is to be smart on crime and that we give options to our judges to hold people accountable in ways that best protect the public safety," he said.
Changing thinking, behavior
Geske, who sentenced her fair share of defendants to life in prison during her tenure as a Milwaukee County circuit judge, believes people who commit crimes need to change their thinking, whether they're serving time or not. In contemporary terms, the concept is called restorative justice, and it is a far cry from the adversarial court system that is the norm in American courtrooms.
Restorative justice has a long tradition throughout history, including in Native American cultures. It teaches that communities, victims and offenders need to be healed after a crime occurs.
"Unfortunately, most people do not think about how much their actions hurt others," Geske said. "Knowing that information can dramatically affect future behavior."
Challenges and Possibilities, a program at the maximum-security Green Bay Correctional Institution where BeBeau and Geske volunteer, is one way community members are trying to inspire prisoners to change their behaviors. About 30 inmates in a recent semester-long course attended workshops where they interacted with crime victims and with one another.
The prisoners work on their attitudes through group therapy-style discussion, writing and art. Volunteers include victims and survivors of violent crime, who share their stories in hopes that the offenders will think about the consequences of their actions.
During a session this fall at Green Bay, Mayda Crites told the story of her son, Bryon, who was killed by a drunken driver in 1999.
Afterward, inmate Jesse Vega spoke up.
"I don't even want to drink no more," said Vega, who admitted drinking and driving in the past. "I just thank God I didn't hurt anyone.
"Now that I heard you speak, I don't even want to ride a bike anymore. It touched me, what you said, and I'm sorry you had to go through that."
In the Green Bay program, a few volunteers serve as representatives of the people who have been harmed by the inmates. In the Milwaukee County district attorney's office, however, participants in a restorative justice program talk directly to the people they have robbed, defrauded or otherwise harmed.
Neighborhood involvement
Milwaukee County's community conferencing groups include victim, offender, a facilitator and a community representative - ideally someone who lives in the neighborhood where the crime occurred. The parties discuss both the facts of the case and its impact. They may ask each other questions, which often leads to emotional insight.
"There is a ripple effect to many of these crimes," said Lerman, who is in charge of the program.
For example, a simple car theft may prevent the car's owner from getting to work, which could lead to his being fired. A corner drug dealer may intimidate neighbors, keeping their children from playing outside.
Only non-violent offenders who have admitted their crimes may participate in community conferencing. Although the judge may consider it at sentencing, prosecutors make no promises of leniency.
Lerman and Erin Katzfey, who works with him, have seen victims and community members benefit, too, as they gain a greater understanding of the crime. A victim of home burglary, for example, may fear she is being stalked and her home will be violated again. In reality, the offender may have chosen the house at random and already forgotten where it is.
"I like to watch the faces as the dialogues are going on," Katzfey said. "It's humanizing for the victim. They see that this is not a monster that did this thing. It's a person who made a really dumb decision."
Funding will run out
Milwaukee County's community conferencing began in 2000 with a $20,000 grant from the Milwaukee Foundation. The following year, the state Legislature earmarked federal grant money to fund Lerman's full-time position and a similar one in Outagamie County. That funding expires next summer. Lerman is hopeful that it will be renewed or that he will be able to come up with an alternative funding source to continue his work.
Wisconsin isn't the only place where money is an issue. Restorative justice programs around the country - even those touted as amazingly effective - face funding hurdles. For example, in Deschutes County, Ore., the state gave the county the money it would have spent to lock up certain juvenile offenders. In turn, the county spent half the money on rehabilitation and half on prevention. In 2000, Deschutes County received $800,000 from the state.
The Oregon program was hailed as a beacon of corrections reform and copied by municipalities around the country. Nonetheless, its funding was cut during a state budget crisis last year. Today, it continues with local funding, said Wisconsin native Dennis Maloney, who spearheaded the Deschutes County program.
Maloney, now the president of an Oregon consulting firm, formerly served as superintendent at Lincoln Hills school for delinquent juveniles in Wisconsin.
"I would see highly motivated kids getting ready to leave the institution, and the community didn't want them back, even when they'd done their time. Just doing your time doesn't win you redemption in the community," he said.
And without community support, the motivation to stay out of trouble began to slip away. After moving to Oregon, Maloney pioneered a program that allowed young offenders to earn their way back into society through restitution and service. For example, juveniles who have committed serious property crimes build Habitat for Humanity houses, which in turn are given to families affected by domestic violence. They work four to six hours a day, all the while earning money for restitution.
Meanwhile, citizens decided the prevention money should go to things such as parenting classes, home health care for pregnant teens and kindergarten for at-risk children.
As a result of the program, incarceration in Oregon's juvenile institution was reduced by 72%, Maloney said.
"If you don't do this kind of thing, you create an incentive for counties to unload as many people into the state prison system as possible, because they pick up the tab for you," Maloney said. "This model turns it around."
'Not just about punishment'
Restorative justice also saves money indirectly by reducing recidivism, its proponents say.
"Justice is not just about punishment. Prison is not necessarily enough to deter a person from committing crimes, and - (prison) doesn't necessarily help the community," Milwaukee County's Lerman said.
Although restorative justice programs and other creative approaches to rehabilitation can be pricey, many believe they would cost less than prison in the long run.
"There's no question in my mind that as expensive as those programs are, they're a lot cheaper than building prisons," said Oneida County Circuit Judge Robert Kinney. "We're not going to build ourselves out of this problem."

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Friday, May 12, 2006

Prison Mis-classification Wastes Billions of Dollars and Many Lives
By Ron Schilling
Re: Prison mis-classification, and billions of dollars in wasted tax revenue

To whom it may concern:

Enclosed please find copies of the following documents:
(note :we have put these in other posts in this blog))
A 4-page letter to the United States Supreme Court clerk, dated 24 April 2003;
a 1-page letter of appeal to the Classification Director, dated 07 April 2003;
a 7-page letter of appeal to the Parole Commission Chairperson, dated 07 April 2003, with the attached 13-page letter addressed to the Assistant District Attorney, dated 17 April 2002;
and a 1-page Social Service Chronological Recording, dated 27 February 2000.

Taken together, they tell quite the saga of prison mis-classification and the resulting collateral consequences.

The Department of Corrections in the State of Wisconsin currently has in place and enforces prison classification rules and parole rules which conflict with one another, making it virtually impossible for prisoners to ever be properly classified and earn their release on parole; a right they retained prior to the implementation of the rules.

A fair reading of the enclosures presents that a clear and unequivocal "catch-22" is created by the rules' combined operation.

If the mis-classification issue were properly addressed it would impact the correctional system on a fundamental level. As the enclosures depict, there is a definite problem with the way the classification and parole rules conflict with one another, forcing every prisoner to serve until their MR, PMR or discharge dates. The matter is made worse for Lifers since they do not have those options to begin with. It ultimately leads to the classic "catch-22" situation where a prisoner cannot be properly classified. Potentially forever.

I have personally been litigating against this precise issue in various State and Federal courts since 1989. After I prevailed in 1990, where the Judge declared the rules to be in violation of the Constitution, I was properly classified until 1998, when DOC began using the rule again. This rule still creates the same effect of the "catch-22" controversy mentioned in the enclosures, and is a designed result of the rules' operation. Consequently, it is the predominant reason for the massive overcrowding in the prison system, needlessly costing the taxpayers many billions of dollars.

Please feel free to use all of the enclosed materials to show concerned individuals exactly what is going on. If someone needs to know more about the technical legal arguments, all of the briefs and pleadings are on file with the court. The federal pleadings are the most refined, and would probably provide the clearest indication of what is happening in Wisconsin.

The short citations and case numbers are thus:
Prison mis-classification Page two.
In the Federal District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, in Madison, Schilling v. Gudmanson, Case No. 98-C-565-C (W.D.WI 2002); In the Federal Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, in Chicago, Schilling v. Karlen, Case No. 02-1982 (USCA7 2002); and
In the United States Supreme Court, in Washington D.C., In re Ronald S. Schilling, Case No. 02-8655 (USSC 20_).

The entire prison industry is not so much a moral failure as it is a designed systemic failure, geared to maintain exploding prison populations and satisfy the requirements for obtaining the billions of dollars in federal grants. Moreover, from a public-safety point of view the system is making matters worse. And from every perceivable angle, it is by design. Can it be turned around? There has to be a commitment to make sweeping changes in the system, but I do not imagine those sacrificial changes coming on their own. The system will not sacrifice itself for the sake of correcting corrections, or doing the right thing for the public good.

In closing, I thank you in advance for any and all attention you can bring to this important matter. Please feel free to contact me personally if you have any questions about any aspect of this matter.
Ronald Schilling

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Letter to parole commissioner Ms. Hackbarth 2004

Ronald Schilling
Box 4000
New Lisbon, WI 53950

Ms. Jayne Hackbarth, Commissioner
Wisconsin Parole Commission
2701 International Lane
Box 7960
Madison, WI 53707-7960

Re: Parole application, file #32219

Dear Ms. Hackbarth:

Let me begin by reiterating how refreshing it was to witness your level of professionalism and sincerity during our interview. I have been before the commission some 18 times and, frankly, this time I was impressed. I actually left the interview with a light heart, and a repaired impression of the commission.

My hopes of penning this letter with a bit better news have - been dashed. The PRC system has manifest shortcomings which are frustrating your efforts to allow me to progress through the system again. I am, of course, referring to the D-ll you rendered in my case to facilitate the return to minimum status. Because of the many PRC failures -- in this instance, the continued and errorneous reliance on the PPI requirement -- the D-ll has been deemed insufficient for a return to minimum status by all levels of the classification apparatus. I will return to this point momentarily.

Be that as it may, I feel our conversation went really well. The only part that left me a tad uncomfortable was your disbelief of definite facts and information concerning my case. Generally, I believe most people are decent, and given correct information, will make the correct choices in life. I view clear-eyed honesty as an amiable trait. And I was totally honest with you about everything.

The nature of my offense cannot be diminished, certainly not by lying. Moreover, I am not a liar. It is a fact that once upon a time I killed, yet I am not a killer. Once upon a time I used and abused drugs, yet I am not an addict, nor do I currently possess any desires for any sort of intoxicants. Once upon a time I acted ignorantly, yet I am not an ignoramus. And when I was young and ignorant I lacked appreciation for the value of truth in.all matters. Nowadays,
however, if anything, I stand accused of being a compulsive truth-teller. Even when it seems to be detrimental to my interests, I would rather deal with the hard truth and learn from it. And this has been -- and continues to be -- my approach to life, including the facts in my case. Certainly I can appreciate how utterly nonsensical it would be to in any way be untruthful to those who hold my entire future in the balance. I flatly refuse to sabotage my future in such fashion.

The letters I authored in explanation of my offense --pointedly, the 07 April 2003 letter to Parole Chairman Wells, and the 17 April 2002 letter to Asst. District Attorney John Burr, were painstakenly truthful and honest. The facts in the record speak volumes for themselves.
Since our interview I have arduously pored over the transcripts in my case to gather the necessary information demonstrating the facts. Affixed hereto are a few pages I typed up from those transcripts; they are verbatim quotes.

Also affixed hereto are numerous documents depicting the administrative failures concerning my proper classification. As you can see, I've written to everyone and tried my best to have the system function properly by honoring your D-ll. The fact that it did not occur testifies to the fact that the system does not function properly, nor has it done so for quite some time concerning my proper classification. The flaws in the system allow for this to occur in perpetuity, with the next recall set at September of 2005.

Understanding the intracacies of the system and looking at the bottom-line State interest, the manifest flaws in all parts of the system mock what should mean most to us. And it sadly indicates what -- even with the current fiscal shortages --the DOC values most. Under the latest incarnation of the rules prisoners have been relegated to a mere numerical consequence. And it's nothing personal but, rather, it's all about the federal fiscal advantages attached to keeping offenders incarcerated as long as humanly possible. It thus allows for the continuation of the Department's unbridled expansion, and that is the bottom line for their every move, including classification and mis-classification.

DOC policies nowadays undermine reasonable judicial expectations and negate the intent of the Legislators, the judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys. They further deny freedom to people who have more than paid for their crimes, and who could be productive, taxpaying members of their communities if given an honest opportunity. If "Truth In Sentencing" is to be more than a mere slogan, the Commission should interpret parolable life sentences as they were intended by the judges who imposed them. In my case the Judge intended for me to serve no more than the mean average length of time in 1975 which, according to statistics, was 13.6 years. I am currently into my 30th year of incarceration.

I only ask to be judged by the content of my character, not some antiquated file; on the content of my character, and not some false-charge conduct reports which were used as a vehicle for my return to medium because of Chairman Husz's under-the-table five-year defer; on the content of my character, and not some bald assertions in a static and unchanging "confidential" file. I am still uncertain which document you alluded to from that file but it sounds hauntingly like some self-serving statement made by a State witness to bolster their case. I have not and will not ever lie to you. Perhaps a step back and a close perusal of the enclosed excerpts from the transcripts will afford us a better running start.

Allow me to suggest that the issue of my proper classification is secondary to having the power to do what is right. Albeit I have never seen it happen, it is clearly within the Commission's purview to grant parole outright, even from a medium security setting. The fact that it may have never happened before should not prevent it from occurring now in a situation such as this.
I believe that correct tactics flow from correct strategies, which flow from a correct ideological and political line. The correctness of the ideological or political line decides everything, and when it is correct, then everything will come its way. The following proposal is ideologically correct, and has been unrecognized far too long for reasons out of step with that correctness.

I am proposing an experiment of sorts; that is, to parole me now, from medium custody, and allow me to prove my overall worthiness to function perfectly and flawlessly in society. I do understand and appreciate the usual need for most prisoners to transition through a minimum setting to obtain work and acquire a little financial stability and demonstrate some responsibility. Wisconsin's progressive security classification system was actually designed to permit a smoother transition from the dependency of prison to complete freedom and earlier release from incarceration under conditions designed to test the prisoner's capacity to "make it on the outside." Such social reintegration was designed for all prisoners with such a need. However, I am already in-great shape with this regard, and do not require such time to
acclimatize prior to release.

To me, this proposed release plan does not present much of an experimental base. To be sure, it will present a marvelous challenge. But, given my parole plan, stable housing, transportation, financial support, the support of loving and caring Christian friends, my vast education, experience and considerable talents, I don't believe for a second I could possibly fail. I wouldn't even attempt making this offer if I didn't believe in it with all my heart; I am fully confident we could accomplish this successfully. Moreover, I want to demonstrate through my success the prospect that long-time lifers are the most well-behaved, well-prepared and worthy individuals to be reintegrated back into society. I want the Commission to be able to use my example for many years to come.

As you are aware, I have already served various stints inminimum settings, and was entrusted even to the extent oftravelling 17 miles from the center without staff escort andentering private homes for Bible study. It awakened therepentance that restored hope in my heart. And I reiteratethat each and every time I presented myself most judiciouslyand conducted myself with the utmost respect for all peopleand adhered to each and every rule. In sum, I really do notrequire more time in a minimum setting; I would function justfine at home. .

I would like to close by saying that the notion of freedom represents the nobelest of aspirations. I can easily live up to the "go forth and sin no more" standard. No valid penological objective or moral social purpose is being served by my continued incarceration. You have the power to parole the trustworthy. I really am trustworthy, and parole-worthy. I am asking for one honest opportunity to set a positive example through my every action so others will benefit from this experiment.
Thank you for your time and consideration of the above.
Ronald Schilling#32219cc: file .

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Letter to Assistant District Attorney 2002

John R. Burr April 17, 2002
Assistant District Attorney
523 City-County Building
210 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
Madison, WI 53703-3342

Re: ruminations on life, and potential parole consideration

Dear Mr. Burr:

Since I became parole eligible in 1987 I have read each of your letters opposing parole. While such communique seemed understandable in the beginning, and even fair in the interests of justice and societal concerns, it is obvious to anyone familiar with me and the current situation that such opposition is not only without basis but is unwarranted. Please bear with me here because I have a great deal to divulge about the past, the present and the hopeful future.

To begin with, I want to stress that I hold no animosity whatsoever against you or the justice system. In fact, I have a lot of respect for you as a prosecutor, and have developed quite a healthy regard for the evolution of the laws of our nation as well. Additionally, I would be the last one to debate that I needed some time in prison. Albeit purely on legal grounds I have taken issue with the legal methods and procedures used, I have to acknowledge it was the only way to affect justice.

Moreover, I have become a fervent believer and Born Again Christian. Most find it difficult to believe when I say that I would not trade the last 27 years for anything; that is, I would rather be found in prison with my knowledge and understanding of God and Christ than to be lost on the streets as I was. Personally, I cannot thank you enough for the opportunity.

I suspect that since this case was some 27 years hence, this would be the most logical explanation for the many errors and discrepancies in your annual letters to the parole commission. Inasmuch as the truth in this matter has never come to light, I feel there are some significant points which need to be divulged and expressed in meaningful terras. For me, in many respects it seems like yesterday that I began this sojourn through the system. Yet in greater measure, it seems like another lifetime; the personal changes have been that vast and complete.

As regards the case itself, given your limited knowledge of what actually occurred, and the obvious legal ramifications of acknowledging same, I will just put the facts out there for posterity's sake and let the chips of fairness fall where they may.

As you know, I, was arrested 13 June 1975 and ultimately convicted of intentionally killing Michael Posthuraa during a drug deal. My two co-defendants (Robert Zelenka and Thomas Stanton) were also convicted of this same offense. I was never allowed to attempt testifying to the facts, and my co-defendants were Constitutionally precluded from doing so. The clever manner in which the entire trial was hinged together prevented the truth from coming to light.

I was convinced by counsel not to plead guilty to the offense because 1 was not at that point fully assured of my degree of involvement, but I knew I had not committed the offense as charged; I am referring to the lack of the "intent" element. During the interrogation, when the Detective said my fingerprint was found on the victim's wallet (which turned out not to be the case), was the first moment I intuitively felt I had probably been involved in something horrendous, but I still was not certain to what degree.

As you also know, I used to suffer grand mal epilepsy and, on the day in question, suffered quite a bad seizure. The periods following such seizures were frequented with post-ictal confusional states, where I was for the most part totally disassociated from reality. At the time of the offense I was in such a state, despite the allegations you presented at trial. The information I have about the entire offense has come from speaking with my co-defendants and from the coroner's report,etc. I have developed a fairly clear indication of my personal involvement in the offense as well as the testimony of the coroner stating Michael probably would have died from the blows to his head even without the knife wounds.

Stanton began attacking Michael after a heated argument. He picked up a ballpean hammer which was laying in the back of Michael's van and hit him in the head with it as it was explained to me, once offensively,and twice defensively. Directly after that, Stanton placed a knife in my hand and a split second following that Michael grabbed me from behind with a bearhug. I responded quite explosively, stabbing him repeatedly. The expert witness testimony described this action as predictable for someone in a post-ictal confusional state who was being restrained in such a manner. I believe it is called "reactive psychosis." And, my God, that was not intended either.

I don't know how else to say it, this was not an intentional homicide. It's not like I was laying in wait for him to grab me from behind. He was supposed to be beaten-up, nothing more; not hit with a hammer, not stabbed with a knife, and certainly not killed. What is more, it is not the same to say Michael was innocently preyed-upon; he was a known drug-dealing felon who was in the process of perpetrating a felony when he was killed. And for what it's worth, it was he who initiated the violence against me, and not the other way around. To be sure, Michael did not deserve to die, nobody does, but I have certainly and dearly paid for it. The bottom line is, we all made bad choices that fateful day. God, we were all so young and ignorant; ignorant of the laws of our own nature, and completely oblivious to the youthful indiscretions leading us all into the circumstances of the offense.

You have repeatedly made mention in your letters that I have shown no remorse for my actions. God certainly knows that is not anywhere close to being true. As stated above, during the interrogation I was slowly entering the throes of the epileptic condition I suffered back then, and could not fully appreciate what was going on much less the gravity of what actually did occur or, moreso, my participation in it. Even then I knew on an intuitive level that the only thing to do was nothing. I found myself in an utterly helpless situation and did nothing but to allow the vital connection with Christ. I prayed, I shook and struggled to keep from yielding to the epilepsy. And,no, at that point I don't suspect I showed much remorse; I was still trying to rationalize what possible role I played in the offense. I didn't know at that point in time.
And whether you were aware of it, or not, during the trial I was barely clinging to life itself. After being held in a prescribed narcotic straightjacket for eight months, I was then yanked off all medication cold-turkey just prior to trial. I did not have a clue what was actually occurring during trial. I knew I was attending a trial but I was not able to appreciate what was actually going on. For this reason, I was not able to show any sort of emotion, or remorse, or do much else beyond sitting there drooling on myself and fighting the natural urges to heave my guts out. I am certain I must have appeared quite insensitive to everything at that point.

I guess what I am driving at here is that I am not some homicidal lunatic incapable of feeling. The reality of my situation is that I do not use drugs, do not participate in riots, have not been in even one fight this entire time, and am even responsible for saving two lives with the Heimlick maneuver while in prison. In short, I am a model prisoner, if there is such a thing, and do not participate in any activities which are not conducive to my progress through and eventual release from the system. I am a conscientious and peace-loving individual who would not knowingly harm a fly. I step over worms and ants, brake for frogs while mowing the lawn, and if I catch an insect indoors I always try to take it outdoors to freedom. 1 have always been this way,and strive to instill that respect for life in others as well. My offense was totally out-of-character for me. It would not have occurred absent any one of a number of circumstances which, in hindsight, occurred in a most bizarre sequence.

It is difficult to express the horror and shock of discovering during a 36-hour barrage of interrogation that I had been involved in whatever capacity with the taking of a human life. I went through many years of devastating inner guilt, remorse, shame and utter disgust over what I had allowed myself to become involved with.

But even though I still live with the nightmare of it all, I have managed to grow beyond it. I have grown to appreciate both sides of what the deprivation has to offer and have made the best of it. Additionally, through considerable research I have come to understand the root cause of my epilepsy and have successfully dealt with it without medications, and without seizure since '77. I have also grown to more fully appreciate how precious life is, the whole of life, as well as my place in it- It has brought me to the inevitable conclusion that when people know more about what is wrong they can do more to make it right.

Having also discovered how preci'ous time itself is, I have strived to make the most judicious use of it. Prior to the Legislature nixing the Pell Grants, I managed to claim plural college degrees. My college professors have written glowing letters to the parole commissioner informing them of my 3.66 GPA, and how "contagiously cheerful" I am. They can see that I follow the light of God at every turn, and that makes me perpetually happy. Even my Social Worker added to my parole plan: "Mr. Schilling has a keen mind and a good heart. If he is not a successful candidate for restoration to the community, then no one on my caseload could possibly be." I faithfully stand bared before God, knowing my transgressions in the light have been forgiven and healed. I have learned and come to understand so much of life that I could not have possibly understood if on the streets. I generally believe the greater understanding offenders have of the actual "costs" of their offense, the less likely they are to reoffend. Ergo, when people know better they generally do better. It has brought me a clearer understanding of how crime attacks the nature of community, and general feelings of connectedness. These are issues most offenders are not even aware of much less able to critically contemplate and afford practical application to in their lives. To be sure, crime does not just "happen;" there are environmental and sociological factors that are undeniable predictors of offensive behavior. At the same time, being aware of those human dynamics can be a useful tool in eliminating that offensive behavior.

I have subsequently been afforded a perfect opportunity to make serious reformations to my character, changing traits, perfecting talents, and reflecting upon my spiritual evolution through God's grace. Prison has afforded the valuable time to introspect and deeply humanise my offense in ways few other experiences could. It has been a substantial and honest effort at redeeming myself; mind, body and Soul. In short, I have used the last 27 years of monastic introspection wisely, and am pleased at having been afforded an opportunity to perfect myself in such fashion.

What is perplexing to me is that of the three of us imprisoned for this offense I was probably the least culpable,responsible because of the seizure I suffered just prior to the incident. I was the only one who, in the words of my co-defendant, was "just along for the ride on that day* (because of my post-ictal state). Yet Zeleaka was paroled on 05 June 1992 , and Stanton has been at minimum custody for quite some time now.

After prevailing in a certiorari action challenging the prison classification rules in 1990, I was finally able to have my classification reduced to minimum custody on 29 May 1992. I was
then allowed to drive from the institution unescorted to work at the gun range quite some distance from the institution. We would also maintain cemetery plots, cut grass and prune trees outside of the institution. On 7/21/92 I was first transferred to minimum custody at JCBCC after serving nearly 17 years of incarceration, and just after Zelenka was released on parole. I
worked at the State garage as a mechanic, working on and test-driving various vehicles daily. On 8/12/92 I was transferred to GCC, where we would travel in excess of 50 miles
from the camp for work in the neighboring counties, going to Solon Springs and Marshfield for medical appointments, and to Hayward for dental appointments. On 10/15/92 I was taken out of GCC and placed in the county jail drunk tank through no action on my part; ostensibly because I was somehow deemed an "escape risk." On 10/28/92 I was returned to GCC because the alleged risk was unsubstantiated. On 9/15/93 I was again taken out of
GCC and placed in the county jail through no action on my part; again, ostensibly as an "escape risk." This was, of course,despite the fact that I was presented with virtually thousands of "opportunities to escape; cars with keys in them, loaded guns- during hunting season, people frequently stopping for directions or information.

Regardless, I was subsequently transferred to medium custody at FLCI on 10/7/93. After considerable haggling with the classification folks in Madison, on 5/11/94 I was transferred to minimum custody at QCI, where I was immediately placed in segregation for some 16 days through no action on my part before being returned to FLCI on 5/27/94, again/ ostensibly as an "escape risk." These return transfers were made without any misconduct on my part and absent any conduct reports (CR) or due process.

Some time later I discovered a "written memo" from John Husa to the folks at GCC stating that I would not be considered for parole for some "five years" (tantamount to a five-year defer) despite the fact that ray PCA form only depicted a 12-month defer. Hence, the real reason for being transferred back to medium three times finally came to light. I also discovered a letter from Husz in 1996 to the folks at FLCI stating that he was going to get "25 years" out of me, which was tantamount to a four-year defer at that time, putting my true FED at 2000.

Shortly after the 1996 letter I was transferred to JCI for a guaranteed "smooth transition" through minimum at BRCC. I was transferred to BRCC on 10/10/96, and worked ott the same sort of crew as I did at the GCC facility. I then accepted a job here, at JCI/ working in the garage out front. We would drive through Black River Falls twice a day to drop off work-release prisoners. And on one occasion I even attended an evening play at the high school in Black River Falls. On 2/3/97/ out of the blue/ I was issued a false-charge CR. . I was then returned to JCI and placed. in segregation. On 2/19/97 I was transferred to minimum at MCC, where the work crew would travel many miles to work at various locations in the community. I was also allowed to attend church in Rhinelander/ many miles from the camp without staff escort. Again/ I was issued another completely bogus false-charge CR and returned to JCI on 7/25/97. The proof of the "false-charge" allegations lies in the paper trail; that the classification process was initiated prior to the CRs even being written.

The above situations are well-documented and speak for themselves. On each occasion at minimum I was valued for working harder than 10 men. I abided by each and every rule/ and towed the line beyond what ever was expected of me. I enjoyed being afforded an opportunity to prove my worthiness for parole, the increased trust and latitude of freedom and being treated equally by members of the community. On each and every occasion, though, my best efforts were sabotaged by opposition from the parole commission. And despite their repeated assertions that they do -not—place a great deal of weight in letters opposing parole, it
is quite obvious the contrary is true. Your comments, especially, carry tremendous weight and influence not only with parole determinations but the decisions made pertaining to classification as well. It can effectively prevent a person's rightfully-earned classification and progression through the system.

In your most recent letter to the parole commission you alluded that the reason I have served so much time "is at least in part due to (my) inability to abide by the rules and regulations of the institution. " For the record, the only rule infractions I've received of late were for things like rinsing my socks in the shower after a workout, which is technically not even a rule violation, yet I accepted the summary disposition of 10 days loss of gym- Because of the fact that I do not violate known rules, writing a CR on me these days is like bagging a 10-point buck for the DOG officers. It's kind of humorous, actually. The fact is I have become profoundly self-disciplined and hold myself to a much higher standard of conduct than what is required by DOC; it is a very stringent line of acceptable conduct that allows for very little deviation. What I am asserting here is that the true reason I have served so much time is not through any action on my part. My behavioral standards do not add to the complexity in this case.

What does add even more complexity to this entire scenario,and rightfully so, is the fact of William Cook's death. As you recall, he was also killed some time later in Iowa County. You have written in the past that I "went free for that murder" (1997), and that I "escaped responsibility" (1998), but neither is actually true. I have learned and accepted that there is no escaping responsibility in God's light. Yet, I was indeed legally acquitted in the Cook case. I never felt particularly good about that, either; it's not like anybody won something in that case. For the record, I have always accepted responsibility because I feel if Michael had not died, my co-defendants would probably not have killed Cook. At this point I am not exactly certain what transpired with the Cook tragedy; the only information I have was provided by my co-defendants. Apparently, Zelenka felt Cook had to be silenced, took him in the woods and shot him with his friend's handgun. As you know, he was also acquitted. I was told I was present at the scene but I could not swear to it. I had no control over the situation, their actions, certainly not my actions. I was not coherent and was "just along for the ride" at that point.
The situation being what it is, I realize the loss on both sides of this case; losing my Wife, my Son, my Daughter, our home, business, as well as all the family members and friends who have died since I was incarcerated, the loss has been tremendous on part as well. It has resulted in the total relinquishing of all physical aspects of my life. And it forced me more into the spiritual realm to grasp the enormity of it all. It forced my eyes open to the bigger picture, and to God. The process of being Born Again from above required the total surrender and letting go of all things physical; all pretence, which caused me to look even higher. I believe there is no other way to lay hold to God while in the physical realm.

I have made tremendous progress with this regard over the years, and continually find more aspects of my physical self that need relinquishing. What I am pleased to discover is that as the old goes by the wayside, the new creation is so wonderfully brilliant that I'm surprised I hadn't missed it long ago- And I'm also finding that this is a continuing and ongoing process; that is, no matter how far 'there' I might believe I am, there is always something that can bring me further into God's light. It is astounding at times to find that I am continually being reduced in such fashion.

What is also amazing is that I cannot imagine one person who has not at some point yielded to things in life which later proved to be to their detriment and sometimes the detriment of others as well. This place is an excellent laboratory full of examples of those who have transgressed societal norms. It is sometimes part of the growing process. Personally, I am still growing and learning. We all are. God is still teaching me there is no power in the human soul of Itself sufficient to break the bondage of whatever dispositions we have formed by yielding to this or that influence in life. The first thing I had to do in examining the power that dominated my particular situation was to take hold of the rather unwelcome fact that I was responsible for being so dominated. An example might be as simple as being selfish as a child, and seeing how that in turn leads to an enchaining tyranny later in life. The same dynamic is at play, I suppose, being exposed to violence early-on, war, drugs, and an adversarial nature prone to litigation. I have discovered that breaking the bondage of those prior dispositions first requires the acceptance of responsibility in order to relinquish it. I thank God for letting me grasp responsibility for all of my actions.

In grappling with the loss from the families of the victims, I have placed myself in their shoes many times over, imagining what it would be like to lose a child in such horrendous fashion. Where could I possibly begin to express my sorrow for taking their sons' lives? Merely vocalizing it would be woefully inadequate. I do not expect them to ever forgive, actually. Personally, even being Born Again with a full understanding about the physical and spiritual tenets of forgiveness, I would be hard-pressed to blindly forgive such a grievous event. I have seen that occur on occasion through various Restorative Justice efforts, and have witnessed the enormously beneficial effects it can have on both sides dealing with the pain and suffering. But I doubt I could forgive such an offense without .knowing the offender had genuinely changed and redeemed himself not only to a point of genuine remorsefulness for the offense and the pain caused to everyone, but also to a point where the offense could never occur again. In such a situation I feel forgiveness would be warranted. This was my first priority, and I am confident with the many changes it took to assure myself of that.

What saddens me the most, even beyond my own personal loss, is the wretched story the victims' families have had to live with for the past 27 years. The spin on the story presented to the media, that their sons were killed in cold-blood "purely for profit" (which was not the case) still to this day causes them to suffer great pain/,as their letters to, and face-to-face meetings with the Parole Commission will bear out. And while I do believe William Cook was killed in cold blood, the same cannot be said for Michael. I feel if both families knew the truth about the whole ordeal (what happened, how,why) they would most probably discover a change of heart which, I believe, would inevitably ease their pain and suffering. For good reason I believe God has been working in this arena as well.

My perception of what we generally accept as "coincidence" has developed over the years to the belief that it is but a mere lack of vision. There have been many marvelous circumstances of "coincidence" that cannot be adequately explained absent the hand of God. Just by coincidence I happened to view the Restorative Justice segments on Nightline, appropriately entitled "A Justice That Heals/" which aired 25-26 October 2000. It featured my Uncle, Fr. Robert H. Oldershaw, who facilitated the rather miraculous RJ efforts featured in that presentation. Since then we have been contemplating a victim-offender conference meeting in my case. Through our visits and personal correspondence we have been going over the particulars of the case and trying to come to terms with the uniqueness of the situation this case presents. He is admittedly not a RJ expert, and we are not quite sure how to proceed with this matter. We, and many others, have been praying on it for quite some time, and have made inquiries to various RJ organizations for guidance and/or assistance. First and foremost, I am apprehensive because I do not want to cause one more iota of grief to the families in this matter. Admittedly, pulling this matter to the surface all over again could be tedious, at least, and needs to be done softly. To my knowledge neither of my co-defendants participated in any sort of RJ program. If the RJ process is or can be accomplished in this matter, it appears it will be on my shoulders to bring the matter into the light and afford some semblance of peace to the hearts of the families. I would graciously honor any opportunity to lessen their pain
I have a strong feeling that something needs to be done; God would not have touched this many people with so many "coincidences" if it was not meant to be. Frankly, it would not surprise me to learn that the victims' families have also been touched in some new way. Time will tell. Until then, I will continue praying on the matter. Of course, any suggestions you might want to share concerning the RJ efforts would be greatly - appreciated.

To allay your concerns about my "mental state," as mentioned earlier, I have quite successfully dealt with all of my problems. I have been totally seizure-free since 1977, through the removal of every known seizure irritant and the use of Yoga/ meditation, prayer and exercise. What is more, prior to any lifer being transferred to minimum custody, there must be an extensive and favorable Clinical evaluation. Given the yo-yo routine I've experienced with minimum classification, I have undergone a number of evaluations which have all been quite stable and positive. It seems really unfair to twist my past "illness" into fodder for negative comment, if that is indeed all it was.

Few would argue that rehabilitation and the notion of true repentance used to be central to the philosophy of "corrections." Similarly,few could argue that such ideals have suffered tremendously as the prison industry continues its unbridled expansion. The retributive model of criminal justice, the purely putative warehousing of offenders evidences a system more interested in vengeance than justice. It serves no valid sociological or penological interest to continue punishment after the rehabilitative operation has run its course. Moreover! I feel it would be a better design to have the system function in concert with social concerns, with a resolution of the entire problem of crime in mind, and not merely focusing on the symptoms of crime. To operate the system in the current irresponsible fashion allows for it to continue failing societal objectives, and actually fosters increased recidivism, adding to an already overburdened and dysfunctional system. I guess what I am suggesting here, is that once a person has demonstrated a true change of heart and nature and shown his worthiness for parole, he should not be denied or deferred for purely static and unchanging historical factors.

I truly feel the best that can come from this situation at this juncture is to secure a "just" resolution in light of the complete transformation made to my being. Clearly, I am not even close to being the same person I was 27 years ago. Through my earnest prayer for so many, many years God has already dictated that such a strong spiritual conviction come home; that my utter transformation has been"justified." Whether 1 spend my few remaining years in prison is really inconsequential to the bigger picture; if it is God's will,let it be done. However, I have strong feelings God has greater plans for me, probably through the music ministry. I feel so fortunate to be gifted with such an extraordinary talent for writing and performing Christian songs. I am confident that I will have another and properly focused opportunity at life. I have faith that it will occur with Godspeed.

My future intentions are to succumb to the calling of God in no small measure with music ministry. I am an accomplished and published musician,guitarist, singer, songwriter,composer. I have compiled thousands of Christian songs over the years, many of which I have tried out on the congregations at various institutions and public churches when I was allowed to do so at minimum, and they were all well-received. There is a powerful message that needs to be spread, and I've found the music medium is an incredibly effective means of accomplishing that. This endeavor will doubtless occupy a huge part of my future; I could easily devote my remaining years to the service of God. Additionally, I plan to immerse myself in various restorative justice projects that are already underway; I feel my personal experience has a great deal to offer in this area. Prison reform is another area of interest where I feel my experience would prove valuable. I plan to give quite a lot of myself back to society upon release; it feels like what God will have me do, and that works just fine for ine.
I would be remiss not to share my sentiments on how inherently wrong it is to maintain a myopic view of the static and unchanging past without due consideration to the present arid future. It seems societal interests are being ignored in this case by requiring me to remain a tax-burden rather than the law-abiding tax-payer everyone who knows me is confident I will be. This is becoming more true each day given the fiscal shortages and the systemic problems of massive overcrowding.
As mentioned in the opening page, I have a great deal of respect for your skill as a prosecutor. Likewise, I have a reverential respect for Judge Torphy's decisions in this matter as well. I have oft contemplated the intent of the sentence structure imposed in this case when imagining just how much time he actually intended for me to serve. To be sure/ if it was his intent to frustrate any parole efforts in this case he could have affected a different sentence structure to reflect that. For instance, he could have given me the maximum term for the robbery conviction, or he could have run the sentences consecutive, etc. That fact that he did not, I believe, reflects hia intent that he did not intend for me to do store than the mean average length of time at the time of sentencing.

As you are doubtless aware, at the time of sentencing in this case, the Legislature had set the eligibility for a life sentence at 11.3 years; for me, that point arrived in 1987. Pursuant to DOG statistical bulletins/ the mean average length of time served on a life sentence 27 years ago was averaged at 13 years; that is to say, absent extenuating circumstances such as bad conduct/ etc./ a lifer was paroled on average in 13 years. Unfortunately, for a number of reasons that mean average has steadily risen over the years. Despite this fact, I have read about truly gruesome murders with the most heinous intent,sicko-sex murderers, multiple cop-killers, who were convicted after ray offense/ but who have been released for some time now. I do not mean to diminish the seriousness of this offense but,Christ, when is enough, enough? What makes my particular offense so inordinate and worthy of such disproportionate punishment? Many people who know me well, prisoners,staff and members of the public, feel that I have more than satisfied jay obligation of time. Of course, I happen to agree with them, and feel that deference to 'Judge Torphy's wisdom and intent of the sentence structure he imposed would be appropriate.

Over the years I have had occasion to speak with a number of Michael's friends and relatives concerning all aspects of the offense. There were quite a few of them employed by DOC as prison guards when I arrived at Waupun; his friends, his cousins, and even the WCI Security Director was his Uncle, who now sits as an alternate on the parole commission during times of increased workload. I needn't say that the first few years in Waupun made for some tense tiroes in the beginning. In recent years I have expressed my remorse to them and explained my own personal transformations. They were not only glad to have had the opportunity for the dialogue going both ways but were pleased with having witnessed the reformation of my entire being, being nothing short of miraculous. They are also puzzled by the length of time I have served, not only because of the manifest rehabilitative efforts on my parti but because they are also familiar with the incredible number of lifers who were sentenced after me and yet, released before me. They ""question "'the propriety"" of my continued incarceration based on the knowledge that it
serves no valid sociological or penological interest to prolong incarceration in a situation like this.
More and more people are applying the desideratum that there is a spiritual means of resolving every problem, both in our personal lives and in our collective lives. I've come to believe'that as we change our thoughts and change our expectations, we also change our world. Personally, I no longer feel bonded to the wounds of the past because after embracing and learning from it, I have given up my personal history, leaving the past in the past. I have merged beyond the illusion and into a clearer understanding. As Albert Einstein once said,"You cannot solve a problem with the same mind that created it." Ancillary to this basic tenet, I feel that recognition of, and reward for, one's effort lies at the heart of the human condition. Failing to account for that would be antithetical to the notion of responsible justice. The incredible potential for humans to change and grow should not be ignored.

One more point before I conclude. I feel it is worthy of your notice and consideration that I am soon to be married. A few years back God blessed me again and placed the most wonderful Christian woman in my life. She is a strong Christian, honest, kind, principled, and a hard working woman. She owns her home in Kenosha (where I plan to parole one day), and has life-long ties in her community. She devotes huge amounts of time to her Church and related activities, organizing charitable events, organising and singing with the choir, teaching Sunday school, and otherwise laboring for our Lord. Moreover, I strongly feel our collective efforts in the future will be for the service of God's work. We both feel a calling to music ministry, and we're really fired up about it. My fiancee is incredibly supportive and keeps me focused on our service to God, and I feel she will be enormously influential in keeping me focused on the streets as well. This is what God will have us do.

In closing, I pray the above sheds additional light on your view of the tragedy which transpired back on 09 June 1975- I also pray that the foregoing will allow for some insight into what I'm really about/ and hopefully cause you to view this situation a bit more compassionately, and with the same level of dignity and grace you would desire in the same circumstance. I thank you for your time. God bless.
Ronald Schilling

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