Human Impact Partners, together with WISDOM and EX-Prisoners Organizing, conducted an HIA on the health impacts of Wisconsin’s revocation system on individuals and families. Revocation is re-incarceration for violating parole, probation, or extended supervision. It often does not result in a new criminal conviction.
The HIA team reviewed literature and data from the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, interviewed staff by phone and email, held focus groups, and interviewed people who had been incarcerated and their families. In reviewing data, the team found that 30 percent of those incarcerated for a revocation during 2015 in Wisconsin had not been convicted of another crime. Forty percent identified as black, but blacks comprise only 6.6 percent of Wisconsin’s population, suggesting a significant inequity. The HIA also found that almost half of those incarcerated for a revocation without a new criminal conviction that year were parents. Wisconsin has at least 18 and as many as 23 rules with which a person on standard parole, probation, or extended supervision must comply, but the specificity of these rules varies. Many leave room for wide interpretation by agents enforcing them. Moreover, the investigations and additional time spent in prison can harm a person’s future employment and housing prospects—among the biggest factors for how successfully he or she will re-enter society. Time away from work jeopardizes a steady income and can lead to job loss, making it harder to pay for housing, childcare, and other basic needs. Focus group participants said that this creates a stressful situation that, along with the stigma of incarceration, creates a major barrier to re-entry and can hurt their health.
The HIA recommended that the state fully implement a 2014 “short-term sanctions” law, which will ensure that responses to parole violations and other noncompliance are consistent and racially equitable. It urged that responses be transparently documented through policy development, clear thresholds and rules under supervision, and workforce development. The Wisconsin Department of Corrections, it said, should provide access to rehabilitation programs as an alternative to revocation and ensure that people on parole, probation, or extended supervision successfully complete these programs. It also recommended that the state grant more due process rights during revocation investigations and proceedings.