By Shruti Rajan, Outreach Coordinator
Last week, I attended a MOSES sponsored forum on the health impacts of crimeless revocation where the executive director of NAMI Dane County, Lindsay Wallace, was a panelist. MOSES defines a crimeless revocation as a re-incarceration of an individual who is on probation, parole, or extended supervision for violating a rule of supervision that does not involve committing a new crime.
I was excited to attend this event because it gave me the chance to learn about the different perspectives that exist in regards to crimeless revocations for various populations. It also gave me the opportunity to hear directly from the people whose lives have been impacted as a result of being sent back to jail or prison without having committed a new crime, which I found very powerful.
The panel was held in conjunction with the release of WISDOM’s Health Impact Assessment Study(HIA). The HIA examined the human and financial impacts of incarcerating people without conviction and reported that nearly 3,000 individuals in Wisconsin have been sent back to prison solely for violating the rules of their supervision in the past year. This means that these individuals were sent back to jail or prison without breaking the law in Wisconsin, such as missing a meeting with their parole officer.
In lieu of the multi-perspective view of the assessment, the event had panel members from different fields talk about their own perspectives on the costs and the racial disparities that are harbored by crimeless revocations, specifically for the populations they serve. Panel members highlighted everything from the detriment that occurs to physical health when an individual lives under constant anxiety to the view that sending people back to jail is just fiscally irresponsible, costing taxpayers over $150 million dollars a year. The panelists also discussed potential solutions and the tactics that need to be implemented to move our criminal justice system in the right direction.
I walked away with a hope that this comprehensive study highlighting the devastating mental/physical health and social effects of crimeless revocation would not and could not be ignored in the eyes of Wisconsin policymakers. Here are four important ideas I learned from attending the forum:
A majority of people released from prison have upwards of 60 rules of supervision and prohibition that they are required to abide by. If a violation of one of the established rules occurs, DOC officials can re-imprison people for seemingly harmless acts, such as: accepting a job offer without prior approval, crossing county lines, borrowing money, etc. Violations of technical terms like these are the most frequent source of revocations. It is difficult for someone without a mental illness to comply with all of these rules let alone someone with a serious mental illness and impaired functioning. There should be more of a focus on personalized supervision requirements, crafted with specialized attention to the unique capabilities of the individual. We need a supervision system that helps people succeed, not fail.
When people with mental illnesses re-enter society with supervisions, their access to treatment or services they received while in jail can potentially be disrupted. Considering the immense pressures of re-entry, the additional worry of having to navigate the mental health care system and having the capacity to sign up for Medicaid can be even more stressful for justice-involved individuals with mental health needs. Keep in mind that even though there is discharge planning before re-entry, the lack of adequate services and resources in the community could potentially delay when individuals get help. Consequently, individuals with mental illness are more likely to be discharged into homelessness or without access to coverage or medications, both of which increase their risk of becoming symptomatic and/or having contact with law enforcement.
The HIA pointed out that the average term served for a crimeless revocation was reported to be around 1.5 years. This statistic is problematic considering that nearly half of all incarcerated individuals have a mental illness. Inmates with serious mental illness may often find themselves accumulating infractions and other disciplinary sanctions that further reduces their chance at even being offered parole, a scenario that only exacerbates the existing problem of overcrowded jails.
Even though black males constitute 5% of our adult population, they account for 39% of all crimeless revocations in our state. Wisconsin is reported to imprison black men for crimeless revocations at a higher rate than any other state.
Keeping all that I’ve learned in mind, I hope that mental health communities, public health advocates, doctors and lawyers alike align their goals and work towards a community where a fellow citizen doesn’t have to proclaim that “The Wisconsin Department of Corrections sentenced me to four years in prison for creating an email account without talking to my agent first.”
To read the full Health Impact Assessment Report visit: www.sentback.org