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11/17/2022https://doc.wi.gov/PublishingImages/NewsItems/180%20story.jpg

​(MADISON, Wis.) — Matthew Reuter has been sober for more than a year, an accomplishment he admits he never thought would happen. Reuter, 34, says he started experimenting with substances at just 14 years old. By age 20, his substance use had worsened and he entered the criminal justice system. That's when he says everything began to go “downhill."

Fast forward to September 2022. The Division of Community Corrections (DCC) held its first “180 Award" ceremony, where DCC clients on community supervision were recognized for their hard work and dedication to their recovery, and for making a complete 180 in their lives. Reuter was among the names called during the ceremony. 

He learned about his recognition when his Probation and Parole agent, Samantha Damijan, called him to deliver the good news. “She told me she had some cool and exciting news," says Reuter. “She shared the nomination and award ceremony information with me. It was really cool as I was also celebrating my graduation from the Dane County Drug Treatment Court Program."

Dane County's Drug Treatment Court Program works to enhance public safety through the reduction of recidivism by coordinating effective and accountable treatment and supportive services for people with substance use disorders. Every participant is assessed and receives an individualized treatment plan. The Drug Court team works to help participants achieve the goals outlined in their treatment plan.

In the nomination form, his agent noted, “Mr. Reuter has truly done a 180 in life, he started off on supervision struggling with employment, his sobriety, and having nowhere to live, he is now finishing the Drug Court Program, he has a home, a good job that he is successful in and is working on repairing his relationship with his daughter. Being a part of his journey has been so exciting for me and everyone else who has gotten to work with him, and is so great to see what someone can do when they really set out to do the work and make the changes."

Reuter's journey to get to this point was long and not without difficulty. “I was in and out of prison and jail all of the time and recognized that's no way to live.  I had no freedom, not from a prison cell or my substance use."

When Reuter was released from jail in October 2021, he immediately relapsed. “I used the first night out, and that was it. That was the end of my use. Something in me snapped and I knew that it was a life I no longer wanted, and I really started setting goals for myself."

But Reuter recognized he couldn't do it alone, a practice reinforced in Drug Court. “I began reaching out. I learned reaching out and asking for help was okay, and I began talking and opening up about things … that has really helped me."

When asked what this award means to him after such a long struggle with substance use, Reuter stated, “To me, the award celebrates the accomplishment of a goal... It's something that blows my mind. I never thought I would be sitting here in this position, even a year ago I would not believe I could have done this."

The Award Ceremony was organized by DCC Clinical Supervisor Holly Stanelle and her Treatment Unit team. The Treatment Unit is the first of its kind in DCC, and helps to increase critical treatment and programming services to persons in the community on probation, parole and extended supervision. Stanelle noted the importance of this unit, stating, “With the pandemic, there has been an increase in substance use in the community, including those on community supervision. The opioid crisis has been particularly difficult and this initiative will allow our agency to tackle it head on."

For Reuter, sobriety and treatment offers a glimpse into a now hopeful future for him and his family. “What I am looking forward to most in the future is getting my kid back, having her in my life and being involved in hers," he states.

In all, thirty-one DCC clients on community supervision in Wisconsin were honored with “180 Awards." Each received a certificate, a copy of their nomination submission and a token medallion to celebrate.

  
11/9/2022Prose and Cons Program

(RACINE, Wis.) – It is often difficult to find the proper channels and motivation to express creativity while incarcerated. Institutions offer classes and programs that allow those in DOC care to engage in learning opportunities, however, these resources can only go so far. One group of men at Racine Correctional Institution (RCI) has found a way to not only express themselves on paper, but to also share their truth with those around them.

Prose and Cons is a creative writing group made up of persons in DOC care. The members of Prose and Cons often showcase their talents by performing spoken word and poetry at institution graduations and putting on their own productions at RCI. The men meet weekly in a group setting, often completing homework assignments and sharing pieces with one another.

Many of the men involved in this group have at least some prior writing experience, but few have dabbled in spoken word. Through Prose and Cons, they enjoy the opportunity to share their work, to learn from each other and to be part of something bigger than just themselves.

Pros and Cons' most recent performance took place at the end of October, as the men put on an original production titled A Matter of Time for institution staff and persons in DOC care. The production focused on the lifecycle of a person in DOC care from arrest to release, and in the final scene, showed how individuals can have a positive impact after release by reaching back out to those still incarcerated.

After a successful opening night, the group wanted to give thanks to their fearless leader, Ms. Pritzlaff, who also serves as the librarian at RCI. They insisted that without Ms. Pritzlaff, none of their work would be possible.

The members of Prose and Cons stuck around after the performance to talk more about the reason for their involvement with this group, as well as their motivation for writing and sharing their work with others.

Can you talk about why you decided to join Prose and Cons?

It's one of the few genuine outlets for self- expression that's not regulated in any type of way. Between ourselves, we are able to be authentic, we don't have to worry about judgement in any way shape or form or fashion. Also, as far as the structure of it, it's constructive because we all hold each other accountable for this production. We all had to make sure we were all here on time, make sure nobody was being sent to the hole. We had to put our egos to the side. That's why I'm involved with this group personally, because it's one of the positive things that is an outlet for self-expression.

Pros and Cons came to me at a time where I had a lot of pain in my heart, a lot of grief, and I was going through a lot. And a lot of my poetry expresses that, after my loss… it's allowed me to express myself creatively and release that pain in a positive manner instead of holding it in and doing something destructive or hurting myself or hurting someone else. So it's given me that outlet and provided me with a stepping stone to elevate and progress in life, and I really appreciate having this.

There's a truth that we all have that everybody knows. They can Google it, they can read it in a newspaper, see it on the news, but then there's the truth in us they don't know. Or a bettering of ourselves, like a reconciliation, a reformation, and that's the truth we're trying to work towards. The criminal part is the past.

Creative expression is a way of retaining my sanity in an environment that is quite often insane.

Not many times do you get to work with people of all different races, all different backgrounds, different ages, and this brings us all together. And I think I can call all these gentlemen my brothers.

Prose and Cons for me is therapy. You know, when my mother passed away, I was in darkness, and it helped me navigate back towards the light.

I love Prose and Cons because it's very therapeutic for me, and I, within myself, am a voice for the voiceless. I'm big on mental health, so for me just professing spoken word, I feel like it manifests good for humanity.

For me, Prose and Cons comes with artistic expression and it's a representation of freedom. I've always been a huge fan of poetry and spoken work and I've always wanted to be a part of that, so this right here kind of gave me my wings to express that.

It gives me a sense of purpose, you know. It gives me a chance to share my work, because I love writing and I always have. I learn so much from each and every one of these guys with their different styles and expressions and types of poetry, spoken word has been my opening, honestly.

For me, it's like expressing the property of words. Hearing others' truths, where they come from, their backgrounds, expressing my background and where I come from, just coming together collectively to work with this group of guys. I'd work with you all any day, I appreciate all your hard work, and keep up the good work.

Did any of you have experience with poetry or spoken word prior to joining Prose and Cons?

I've written extensively. I write short stories and plays, I dabbled in writing little songs and stuff like that. But something like this? No. This is, even if you were able to attend one of our classes, this is a writer's group of talented men. We have homework assignments every week and we bring them to group the next week, it would blow you away the things that some of these gentlemen come up with in a week's time. This is a really talented group of gentlemen. I've been involved with this since 2018, and when I first joined, I was almost scared to get up and read my little stuff in front of them, because there's some really talented guys that come through here. But through their tutelage and being around them and pick little things up, I've grown as a writer, and I know it's the same for everybody else because I hear the progression in their craft.

Before this class, I wrote back when I was younger, but I never really stuck with it. When I came here, it's like, it gives me an outlet and a voice to voice my opinions, especially with the things I'm dealing with and going through. It's given me that voice to share that in a positive manner because when you hold all of that in, it can manifest and you can either allow it to electrify, or allow it to deteriorate.

For me, I started writing in February after I was sentenced. And I had to do it as a way to rebuild who I thought I was. The opposite of writing is reading, and when you read, you get to live a life of whatever it is you're reading. You could read one thousand lives. In writing, we get to write our lives, and everyone gets to read that too. We get to feel the healing from other members of group, the learning we get from everyone in group, I love this group, I do.

I've been writing for a couple of years now, working on screenplay writing and short stories. I entered a few writing and poetry contests and stuff like that, so that's how I kind of got into it. I came to this prison and bumped into these guys and got into Prose and Cons, but poetry and creative writing has always been the backbone of my foundation while incarcerated, because in a lot of our situations, we've been incarcerated in these confined and condensed cells for years, especially during the pandemic, so when you write, that's a form of therapy. It takes your mind out of prison bars. I also love poetry because there are guys that have their own demons, they don't know how to express that. So when I get up here, I mostly represent or express poetry so I can be a voice for them so they can relate to that.

There's a song called I Wrote My Way Out, and I feel that here, that's what we get an opportunity to do. We get a chance to write our way out.

It really is an escape. We've been working on this production for 3-4 months now, but it seems like it went in like a couple weeks, because there's so much that goes into it, getting input from everybody. It constructs your time different, and you really don't have time to do anything else. The time just goes.

Can you tell me about some of the challenges that come along with being part of this group? How do guys in this group challenge you, and how do you go on to challenge each other?

I've never dealt with rap or other forms of poetry, I'm a Robert Frost person. But I can sit down now, and some of these gentlemen can testify, I can write a little bit of rap. I can be part of the group, and that's one thing that's allowing me to grow. I'm able to be a member of the community, and that's what I like."

I'm still young, I got a little bit of a ways to go in life, thank God. But for me coming into this class, not only this environment being in prison, but I've always had a problem with speaking and other people's opinions about just what men go through on a day-to-day basis. It could be relationship, family problems, whatever, but this class made me more confident about myself and with that, seeing everybody uplift each other, I can actually help my family and be more supportive of them. So that was one thing that drove me down a little bit, but I'm actually starting to open up.

It challenges me to stay focused because for me, if left on my own, I would be in the hole a lot if left to my own will and desire. So Prose and Cons helps me stay focused, it challenges me to be focused all the time. There are at least a couple incidents I wouldn't have let go if I didn't have this show to do. This actually challenges me to stay focused because I don't want to let my brothers down.

I want to elaborate on not letting each other down. Coming into this, it was a lot of pressure for me. I came in on short notice, I didn't want to let these guys down and I appreciate these guys giving me a chance to come in here and articulate words and express it so other people can understand where I come from.

As far as obstacles and things of that nature, there are a lot of things that people want to do within the DOC that kind of get stonewalled. But because this is a positive thing, through the course of time I've been involved with this, the DOC has permitted or advocated for us to do more and more. We perform twice a year at the graduations now, we recently shot a documentary, so there's a lot of things they've given us the leeway to do… And you can tell in the performance that this is genuine.

Accountability has already been mentioned, but I think another element of this group is that we do challenge each other with feedback and ideas. That challenge is a good thing because when you come together, you suddenly discover that someone might have a different perspective than you do that is actually a valid perspective. Maybe I don't agree with what he said, but I can understand where he's coming from. When we share our poems in class and such, you'll find sometimes someone will say something that you never would have conceived of before, that has suddenly opened your world to something new. So I find that to be a really great challenge.

For me personally, it was really hard for me to accept someone else's feedback and tell me that you should do this or you should do that, and pretty much tell you how to tell your own story. But taking everybody's stories and being able to mold them into something and create something, it's a beautiful thing and it was a challenge for us, for everybody to accept that criticism. It allowed us to communicate with each other and build that communication.

For us, we've got to get our truth out there, and that's not easy. As men, we're taught to hide and to be undercover and whatnot. My very first time in class, I cried, and I've been brought to tears at other times. I've had other people come and ask me about me because they wanted to get to know me. So you've got to be honest and get it out there."


Opening for Act 1.m4a

Excerpt 1 from Prose and Cons.m4a

Excerpt 2 from Prose and Cons.m4a

Individual Piece - Prose and Cons.m4a


Prose and Cons Program from "A Matter of Time"
  
9/9/2022

(MADISON, Wis.) — Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC) Secretary Kevin Carr welcomed Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) Secretary Randy Romanski Thursday for a tour of DO​C's Bureau of Correctional Enterprises (BCE) agriculture facilities in Waupun. The two walked the grounds at BCE's Waupun Farm for a look at the operation there, including the facility's new transition barn, part of a $6 million facilities project.

The barn, which has 260 stalls, was completed in 2021 and includes sand beds to improve cow comfort. This is part of BCE's continued efforts to promote a healthy and productive dairy herd. Across the U.S., the average milk cow produces 68 lbs. of milk per day. Cows at the Waupun Farm produce an average of 90 lbs. of milk per day.

“A more-productive herd means more money for our operations," noted BCE Director Wes Ray, who led the tour. “We're almost entirely self-funded. So, the more money we make, the more we can re-invest in our facilities and the more people in DOC care we can offer jobs and training."

The Waupun Farm, along with the Waupun Dairy where the milk is ultimately processed, are both staffed by BCE employees, as well as men in the custody of DOC at John C. Burke Correctional Center in Waupun.

“It was great to have the Department of Corrections host a tour of the Waupun Farm and Dairy. These are impressive facilities," said DATCP Sec. Romanski. “There are a lot of needs in the workforce right now. With the programs DOC has in place, they are offering training that builds job skills for people in correctional facilities. This can provide an opportunity to hone their skillsets and possibly find employment when they return to the community."

“This farm provides a tremendous opportunity for persons in our care to work in an environment that provides them with jobs skills that I believe are not only going to allow them to pursue a career in agriculture when they leave our care, but these will be transferrable to many other industries," added DOC Sec. Carr.

In addition to the transition barn, the secretaries toured the farm's milking parlor and the hutches where calves were being fed. They also spoke with a few of the men working at the farm who are learning skills related to the agriculture industry, and soft skills applicable to many jobs.

“Working long hours, getting my body in shape … Also, patience in dealing with different people from different backgrounds, and operating different machinery. I've learned a lot here and I continue to learn every day," Anthony said.

“Discipline, getting up in the morning, showing up for work, being part of a team, being on time for each assignment you have while you're here," added Bernie.

After touring the Waupun Farm, Sec. Romanski toured BCE's Waupun Dairy, where the raw milk from the dairy herd is processed into skim milk, ice cream and sherbet. BCE is not allowed to compete with private businesses to sell these products to the general public. Instead, its primary customers are the Wisconsin DOC, Wisconsin Department of Health Services' facilities, and Minnesota Department of Corrections facilities.  In fiscal year 2021, the dairy produced:

  • 89,000 five-gallon containers of skim milk

  • 350,000 cases of skim milk half-pints

  • 18,000 cases of ice cream

  • 7,000 cases of sherbet

For Sec. Carr, the job training and rehabilitative aspects of the operation are as important as the production of the herd and annual sales. He explains that BCE workers are re-incarcerated at a lower rate than comparable persons in DOC care who did not work for BCE. Data shows 75% of BCE workers have not returned to DOC custody three years after release.

“Ninety-five percent of the persons in our care are going to return to our communities. That's just a fact. So, when they're in our care, we have every obligation to try and provide as many of those folks in our care as possible, with the skills, training and treatment to be successful when they leave us and not return to custody. That's the most cost-effective form of public safety."

BCE workers apply for their jobs. They have to have a high school degree or equivalent, and they must maintain a clean discipline record to keep their jobs.

The Waupun Farm, one of two farms managed by BCE, is approximately 1,650 acres. The primary crops - alfalfa, corn, soybeans, and wheat – are grown primarily for consumption by the Holstein dairy herd, which includes around 360 milk cows.

Since 2017, BCE has earned annual, formal recognition from DATCP for producing high-quality milk and maintaining noteworthy farm conditions.

  
8/22/2022

(PLYMOUTH, Wis.) — Enoch Arteaga had not seen his children in person for two years. The long stretch had nothing to do with living too far apart. His kids were a relatively short drive away. It also wasn't because he didn't want to see them. Their absence in his life was solely due to him being incarcerated.

“This is something that we don't get. So, the moments I can get with them, it means more," Arteaga said while painting wooden cars with his children at Kettle Moraine Correctional Institution (KMCI) earlier this month. “Especially seeing them grow, and having gaps where I don't see them, it's something incredibly special."

Arteaga's kids were among the roughly 30 boys and girls participating in Camp Reunite, a week-long, trauma-informed summer camp serving youth ages 8-17 who have a parent currently incarcerated in the Wisconsin Correctional System. It is a partnership between Hometown Heroes, Inc., the Turning Rivers youth camping facility and the Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC).

Camp Reunite included two trips to KMCI, where the kids had extended visits with their fathers. Hometown Heroes began offering Camp Reunite to the children of men incarcerated at KMCI in 2020. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, previous camps only offered father-child interactions through video visits. This summer marked the first time campers came in person.

“It's been amazing. Three years coming," said Timothy Gessner, Corrections Program Supervisor at KMCI. “Virtual, virtual, virtual. And now to have them in person, seeing their faces light up. We went to camp yesterday and got to talk to the kids, and just seeing how excited they were to come to KMCI today, and then to see them embrace their dads was a pretty neat feeling."

Children with an incarcerated parent often feel forgotten or left behind, and can struggle with feelings of anger, frustration, low self-esteem and motivation. Along with traditional recreational summer camp activities, Camp Reunite promotes mental health while providing hope, healing and resiliency through the strengthening of the connection between children and their incarcerated parent.

Youth who attend the camp fill out surveys using a “Hope Scale" to measure the level of hope they feel at a point in time. Hometown Heroes says those surveys reveal that campers feel increased hope at the end of camp. And caregivers of the campers have noted a lasting resilience in the children after they attend Camp Reunite. 

“I think most importantly, (the experience) lets them know Dad's safe. He's okay." Arteaga explained. “And just lets them know that I'm here. I'm with them even if I'm separate from them. I still think about them all day."

The visits to KMCI are less restrictive than normal visits to a secure correctional facility. They include both indoor and outdoor recreation areas inside the institution's fence, where the families can move about somewhat freely and enjoy activities like cornhole, frisbee, football, soccer, painting, board games, face painting and photo booths.

“These visits are so much different than your normal in-person visits on a daily basis, so being able to interact at a more human level is huge," said KMCI Sgt. Kelsey Kemnitz

“I think it kind of makes it feel a little less like prison. You still remember where you're at, while having this less-restricted visit where they can embrace more, and play these games and be outside doing actual physical activities – throwing the football around, things like that," Gessner added.

“Some of these kids hadn't seen their dads for a long time. So, to open this up in this way, with this type of lack of restrictions, and activities and games and things to do, you can see it in their faces how much it impacts them. Just running up and embracing their dad when they came in, it was pretty powerful."

Camp Reunite​ is a collaboration unique to Hometown Heroes and the Wisconsin DOC. The program started in 2018 at Taycheedah Correctional Institution (TCI), a part of the Wisconsin Women's Correctional System, as a week-long summer camp that explored ways to help kids cope with separation from their mother. Since then, a winter version of Camp Reunite was added at TCI, and the program was also expanded to a men's institution, KMCI, in 2020.

Sgt. Kemnitz worked at TCI before transferring to KMCI, where she serves on the institution committee responsible for facilitating Camp Reunite. While noting it takes a large effort to pull off the extended visits, she believes the program has a positive impact on staff, as well as the parents and kids.

“It literally takes an entire institution to make one day, two days, a week happen," Sgt. Kemnitz said. “It was amazing how many people started coming out of the woodworks who weren't even part of the committee or didn't previously have interest, and this last week said, 'Hey, what can I do to help?'"

Part of this program is being able to join all the disciplinary teams and say, 'Hey, we're all still people. It doesn't matter if you're wearing gray or green and I'm wearing blue.'" 

  
8/1/2022

(BEAVER DAM, Wis.) — The Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC) and Moraine Park Technical College (MPTC) celebrated the results of a collaborative vocational education program last Thursday, July 28, on the College's Beaver Dam campus.

Six men in DOC care at the minimum-security John C. Burke Correctional Center (JBCC) received their certificate of completion from a 12-week, 12-credit program offered by the College. The men received lab and classroom instruction at MPTC's Beaver Dam campus, learning how to perform basic welding processes, interpret blueprints, apply welding symbols and operate equipment.

“Being able to learn the team-building, problem-solving and other commonly used skills in real world manufacturing and management roles is going to be a great tool for me in my future career path," said Jeremy Thompson.  “I took the initiative to enroll in this program expecting a basic understanding of some welding processes, and I walked away with a reinforced understanding and ability to use advanced math and blueprint reading, as well as very thorough knowledge and skill of setting up and performing GMAW, which is known as MIG welding, and GTAW, which is known as TIG welding."

All six men who started the training went on to complete the program. DOC worked with DWD Apprenticeship staff on getting this program approved as a certified Pre-Apprenticeship program. As a leader in apprenticeship, Wisconsin relies heavily on partnerships to develop high-quality, effective programs that address the state's workforce needs. This program helps participants develop new skills and prepare for Registered Apprenticeship opportunities. 

DOC also worked with the Workforce Development Board of South Central Wisconsin (WDBSCW) to combine funding sources to enroll participants in this program. The students received a total of $2,850 through their work in the program and they will also receive a $100 completion bonus.

During his remarks, Sec. Kevin Carr thanked all the groups and people involved in the collaboration.

“I can talk all day about all the people, partnerships and resources it took to reach this day, but at the end of the day, it came down to the will and drive of our graduates," Carr said during the completion ceremony. “You all set a goal, made a commitment and then worked hard to complete this program. You should be extremely proud of what you've accomplished."

The students began their training in March and finished in June. More than 60% of persons in DOC care have five years or less left to serve on their sentence. DOC's mission includes providing opportunities and tools people will need to be successful when they return to the community.

  
7/28/2022https://doc.wi.gov/PublishingImages/NewsItems/interns.jpg

(MADISON, Wis.) — When Probation and Parole Agent Intern Stephanie Faudoa thinks about her summer internship with the Department of Corrections (DOC), she reflects on the impact of her mentor from the Division of Community Corrections (DCC).

“My mentor and supervisor have allowed me to take my leadership skills to a new level," Faudoa states. “They have allowed me to become more knowledgeable in the legal system as well as helped me to not be afraid to challenge myself . . .  they have taught me to lead with passion, dedication, and most importantly, hard work."

This summer, Faudoa has gained a variety of experiences including effectively communicating with clients, reading and writing legal documents, conducting office visits, and learning how custodies are conducted.

Faudoa is one of 15 interns working at the DOC this summer as part of the State of Wisconsin Student Diversity Internship Program (SWSDIP). Since its creation in 1974, the program has placed nearly 4,000 students in summer internship positions throughout the state.

This year, more than 190 internship opportunities were offered throughout all state agencies. Candidates were selected out of a pool of over 850 qualified applicants. The opportunity provides students interested in public service with professional work experiences and a chance to dip their toes into the public sector.

When Melany Lorge, Facility Manager Intern for the Bureau of Budget and Facility Management in the Division of Management Services (DMS) looks back on how her experience has been this summer, she thinks about the impact of her team, stating, “I think what surprised me the most is the amazing team that I've worked with during my time here so far. Everyone has been incredibly open to teaching and helping advance any goals that I might have for my time at the DOC.

“On top of that, they are all genuine people, and it has been a pleasure to get to know everyone and work on their team. Their attitude toward their jobs has shown me what I am striving for in the future . . . Going forward, I know that I will compare a lot of my future jobs to the experience that I had here and know what work culture I operate the best in."

For potential candidates thinking about applying to the program for next summer, both Lorge and Faudoa had insightful advice to give: 

“My advice for someone coming into the program next summer would be to not be afraid of change," states Faudoa. “There are many times in our lives that change is viewed as something that is scary. Although, the way I look at it is that change can actually be beautiful and it can push us to reach goals we never thought possible. It is through change that a person finds their true self and without change, people wouldn't know the wonders of their true potential."

“My advice would be to really evaluate what you want out of the internship before you get started," states Lorge. “The people here really want to make this the best experience for you as possible, and they are willing to mentor in a variety of different ways! My boss has made it abundantly clear that I can choose to shadow any position that I am interested in. Try not to be intimidated by the size of the department overall. Having a large state department to work for, means that you have more resources and connections to explore!" 

To learn more or apply, visit the State of Wisconsin Student Diversity Internship Program website here. Individuals are encouraged to monitor this site early and often for the most up-to-date information.

Interns Stephanie Faudoa (L) and Melany Lorge (R) are part of the State of Wisconsin Diversity Internship Program (SWSDIP) working at the Department of Corrections this summer.
  
7/11/2022https://doc.wi.gov/PublishingImages/NewsItems/PREA.jpg

(MADISON, Wis) — The National PREA (Prison Rape Elimination Act) Coordinator Working Group recently selected its Chair and Vice Chair for the next two years. The incoming officers are Chairperson Leigha Weber, who has served as the PREA Director for the Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC) since 2018, and Vice Chair Jason Effman, Associate Commissioner and PREA Coordinator for the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. 

We recently spoke with them about the National PREA Coordinator Working Group, its work and goals for the future.

First off, for those not familiar, what is the Prison Rape Elimination Act or PREA?

Weber: ​PREA became federal law in 2003 after being passed with unanimous congressional support. The legislation requires confinement facilities – like prisons, jails, halfway houses, and youth detention – to establish policies and implement procedures that will eliminate sexual abuse and sexual harassment of people in our care. It's zero tolerance in practice – so that facilities are safer and people return to our communities healthier.

And what is the National PREA Coordinator Working Group?

Effman: We are a group of agency PREA coordinators/directors from states across the country focused on organizing communication on PREA issues while working with federal partners to identify meaningful ways to help prevent sexual abuse in confinement settings. The National PREA Coordinators Working Group was formed to facilitate collaboration amongst the agency-wide PREA Coordinators for the states and the United States Territories, and to serve as a collective voice for these Corrections Professionals on important policy and practice matters.

How is it helpful to the agencies involved?

Weber: The group facilitates collaboration among the state correctional agencies involved in reaching shared goals, including operationalization of the National PREA standards and, ultimately, prevention of sexual abuse. The group also serves as a collective voice in response to common and evolving challenges faced by PREA coordinators among state, county and private agencies. 

Effman: By working together, we help each other identify promising practices and innovative strategies. We also offer support to peers who are newer to this work.

How long has this group been together?

Weber: Just a few years. The Working Group came from discussions at the 2019 PREA Coordinators National Conference. Currently, Coordinators from nine states make up the PREA Working Group. In this relatively short amount of time, we've developed a strong working relationship with the PREA Resource Center (PRC), which has shown to be mutually valuable. For example, we've had the opportunity to offer our collective perspective and solutions on auditing issues created by the pandemic; review technology and tools for use in the field; and partner on conference planning.

What other groups do you work with?

Effman: We have ongoing communications with the U.S. Department of Justice, PREA Management Office (PMO) and other national subject matter experts in the field like Just Detention International and The Moss Group. We hope to cultivate a reciprocal partnership with the PMO in response to the development of best practices, as the PMO/PRC continue to refine protocols primarily around the audit process.

Weber: We believe the experience of the members of the National PREA Coordinator Working Group is diverse, vast, meaningful and practical – all of which helps our partners develop strategies and solutions that have real-life value.

 

Leigha Weber has been with the Wisconsin Department of Corrections' PREA Office since 2014. She is a certified USDOJ PREA Auditor. Prior to joining Wisconsin DOC, she oversaw all major service delivery functions as the Director of Social Services for The Salvation Army of Dane County. She came to Madison from San Diego, where she was the Community Health Program Manager for the Transitional Case Management Program, a joint re-entry initiative of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, and the University of California-San Diego.

Jason Effman has been Associate Commissioner at the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision since 2013. He was certified by the USDOJ as a PREA Auditor in 2015. He has been with NYS DOCCS since 1999 where he started as an Assistant Counsel. He started working on policy and practice issues pertaining to sexual abuse and misconduct through litigation and regulatory compliance in 2003. Since 2005, he has been representing NYS DOCCS in national activities related to the implementation of PREA.  He is also a member of the New York State Interagency LGBTQ Task Force, has served as a subject matter expert on projects with the National Institute of Corrections, and had the privilege of serving in an advisory capacity on the DOJ/PREA Resource Center project to develop the PREA Audit Instrument.  ​

Incoming officers Chairperson Leigha Weber (L), PREA Director for Wisconsin Department of Corrections and Vice Chair Jason Effman (R), Associate Commissioner and PREA Coordinator for New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.
  
6/29/2022

(MADISON, Wis.) — Many take pride in Wisconsin's label as “America's Dairyland." With Wisconsin accounting for 14% of U.S milk production and producing a record number of 31.7 billion pounds of milk in 2021 according to the Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin, the impact of Wisconsin on the dairy industry is undeniable.

The impact of dairy can even be seen in the Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC). DOC's Bureau of Correctional Enterprises (BCE) has many agricultural sites. Two farms near Oregon and Waupun & Fox Lake have a total of approximately 1,000 cows, with 550 to 600 milking cows at a given time. Each milking cow generally produces 90 pounds of milk per day, surpassing the national average by about 24 pounds or 35%, according to Wes Ray, director of BCE. None of the milk produced goes to waste either – any unprocessed milk is used to feed the calves.

Part of how employees accurately track milk production is through a radio frequency ID ear tag on each cow. Employees utilize the software, DairyCOMP 305, to track the production lifecycle of a cow, every lactation, and the amount of milk produced during lactation. This allows staff to make data-informed decisions.

But dairy isn't the only thing being produced at these farms. The self-sufficiency of the farms and dairy allows workers opportunities to learn skills, work on a team and receive some much-needed funds.

Persons in DOC's Care from Oakhill Correctional Institution are employed at Oregon farm, and individuals from the John Burke Correctional Center are employed at the Waupun & Fox Lake farms and Waupun dairy. As members of these teams, they are provided training and work experience that help lead to success in prison and in the community upon re-entry. 

One BCE worker reflects on how working at Waupun dairy has set him up for success before he returns to the community. Starting work folding half-pint containers and moving to roles with more responsibility, he's managed to network and impress employers on the farm, stating, “I have jobs lined up once I get out. People I've met while here have already told me when this is over, you've got a job."

According to BCE's outreach brochure, within three years after being released, 88% of former BCE workers are employed, and 71% have not returned to DOC custody. Additionally, Ray says when former BCE workers get out, they have generally $3,000 more in their accounts than non-BCE workers. This money helps workers pay restitution and provides a little financial cushion. “I think it gives people a little more room to make the decisions they ought to make," Ray shared.

Through roles on the farm and at the dairy, BCE's mission of providing jobs and training for persons in DOC's care to enhance public safety and lead to long-term success has been highly impactful. Learn more about BCE's mission and benefits to those in DOC's care here.

  
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​(WAUPUN, Wis.) — ​Robert Alexander seemed calm and steady through the entire ceremony, including the speech he delivered on behalf of his fellow graduates. It wasn't until after the program, when he was asked by reporters about the rousing cheer he received from his family in attendance, that the emotions of the day caught up with him.

“I spent a lot of my life not being what my mother knew that I was. So, to see the pride in her face… " Alexander said before choking up, then quickly composing himself. “Yeah, I was humbled. I'm tired of not making my momma proud, you know. Seeing her see me do something she knew I could do, it was too long coming."

Alexander and eight others were honored at Waupun Correctional Institution this morning for their work to become just the second group of men to ever graduate from a four-year college baccalaureate program inside a DOC institution.

“When I enrolled in the program, I expected to complete it, because I was entering into a commitment," Alexander explained. “Did I think coming to prison I would be a college graduate? No. I didn't think one of the things I would get out of prison was a college degree."

The degree he and others earned is in Biblical Studies, with a minor in Psychology. It is offered through a partnership between the Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC), Trinity International University and the Wisconsin Inmate Education Association (WIEA). Starting in 2017, DOC offered a small space at Waupun Correctional Institution where Trinty established an accredited branch campus. The university provides the staff, curriculum and degrees. The WIEA pays 100% of the tuition, leaving no costs for the students or the state.

“Of course, I can talk all day about all the people, partnerships and resources it took to make this happen, but at the end of the day, it came down to the will and drive of our graduates," DOC Sec. Kevin Carr told the graduates during the ceremony. “To each of you, let me be among the first of many today, to say congratulations."

“When we processed here a little while ago and I saw on the chairs the names and the word 'graduate', I realized that by the time you come up here, shake hands and go back, we need to change the labels on the chairs," said Trinity International University President, Dr. Nicholas Perrin. “Because no longer are you going to be graduates. You'll be Trinity alumni."

“You can't have correction without having education. It's impossible," Alexander said after the ceremony. “For me, getting this education has allowed me to be far more prepared for freedom than I was before. I understand differently and I'm able to think far more critically."

Alexander's release date is not till 2030, but he is already looking to the future. He says he hopes to earn a Master's Degree in Psychology and potentially pursue a career in substance abuse counseling, noting that, “A lot of the things I got into myself, drugs and alcohol were a catalyst."

There are 29 people in DOC care currently enrolled in the program, including the nine graduates. Each was held to the same admissions standards Trinity International University applies to all students, including having at least a high school equivalency diploma.

  
6/23/2022

​(PLYMOUTH, Wis.) ​​— Devonte Jackson sat at a computer screen at Kettle Moraine Correctional Institution (KMCI) on Tuesday and explained why the task he was working on may be the most important to ensure his future success

“I want to learn as much as I can about the employment process, including interviewing, job research, and resume development, with the ultimate goal of a job before release," Jackson explained.  “A job where I can continue to develop my skills in order to open up more opportunities."

Opportunity is key for Jackson. He is 27 years old and a felon due to a guilty plea in a 2013 forgery case. He is also among the men in DOC care at KMCI who are using the institution's Job Center in hopes of finding a good job that can help set them up for success in the community.

“Finding a job can be one of the largest obstacles for people leaving DOC care. They've been in prison, so they may have no recent work history, plus there is the stigma of having a criminal record and being recently incarcerated," Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC) Sec. Kevin Carr said at the Job Center on Tuesday. “We cannot wipe away that stigma, but we can give people in our care a head-start on their job search before they return home."

DOC's Job Centers are a joint effort between the DOC and the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD). They provide access and support to help people in DOC care create a Job Center of Wisconsin account that they can continue to use when they return home. They also use the Center to look for jobs, apply and interview.

James McInnis, Education Director at KMCI, says one man who used the Job Center received a job offer while still at the facility in late May and began his employment within days of his release.

“Wisconsin, like the rest of the Midwest and United States, is facing a worker quantity shortage," said DWD Secretary-designee Amy Pechacek. “We have, right now, about two open jobs for every job-seeker, so we have been coaching employers around the state that there are many talented, yet underutilized, pools of individuals, including folks who have been incarcerated, who are returning to the communities and can help fill their workforce needs."

Secretary-designee Pechacek was one of several visitors who recently toured the Job Center, which is just one example of how the DOC, under the Evers Administration, is partnering with other agencies to strengthen a state workforce that needs more employees.

Visitors also had the opportunity to tour KMCI's various vocational education classes, including welding, barbering and mechanical design. DOC partners with Moraine Park Technical College (MPTC) to provide these opportunities to earn certification in various fields.

“It's important for us because we serve the employers in our district, and we want to make sure that every population has the opportunity to help our employers find the talented workforce they need," said MPTC President Bonnie Baerwald. “We also realize that a lot of justice-involved populations are released at some point in time. So, we want to make sure they have the best opportunity that, once they are released, they don't come back. I'm very proud of the academic programming that we are able to offer here."

“Every year, thousands of people leave Wisconsin DOC custody. Most will be looking for employment when they go home," said Sec. Carr. “With our partners we're giving them the skills to compete for a job and the tools to help them find a job before they leave us. It's a win for them and for the state's economy. 

DOC and DWD have worked to greatly expand the number of Job Centers at DOC institution under the Evers Administration, going from one in 2018 to 11 currently. The one at KMCI is the newest, having been in use just a couple of months. The KMCI Job Center has 12 work stations and is staffed by DWD employees. The institution prioritizes use of the Job Center for those within six months of their release date.


  
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(MILWAUKEE, Wis.) — ​ Lt. Efrim Martin never expect Vanessa, his oldest child and only daughter, to follow in his footsteps and choose a career in corrections.

“When she was younger, she had interest in being an attorney," he said after a shift earlier this week.

“I changed my major a few different times," explained Vanessa. “I wasn't 100% sure of the path I wanted to go down and, to be honest with you, corrections just worked out. It wasn't anything planned."

Efrim said it came as a surprise that she did have an interest, and the surprise got even better with her transferring to the same facility where he works.

This Father's Day – Sunday, June 19 – marks six months since Vanessa transferred to Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility (MSDF), after more than a year at Taycheedah Correctional Institution. The 29-year-old Milwaukee native says she just wanted to work with her dad.

“I knew that my dad was coming up on his retirement. We had talked and I wasn't really sure long he was going to go."

“You raise your kids, you get them through school, and the different trials and tribulations in life. And it's something I never imagined, to be able to work with one of my kids," Efrim said.

“There were a lot of emotions about it but, honestly, I feel like it was the best decision ever," added Vanessa.

Lt. Martin has more than two decades experience at MSDF. He is the third shift lieutenant at the facility and Vanessa is a correctional officer on second shift. Though not on the same shift, their workdays sometimes overlap and they work together.

“And to be able to see her in a work environment, which is something that a lot of parents don't get a chance to see. It is a different side of her, but it's a good side. I see a young lady who has matured, has work ethic and is able to articulate herself to PIOC and staff."

And while he tries not to be a parent at work, Vanessa says he dad has offered advice to help her as she began both her career in corrections and at MSDF.

“It helped me to prepare myself in the sense of what to expect; the hours and the environment."

“I want to be able to give her as much knowledge as possible," Efrim added.

“He has always had an open ear. And it's really helped my transition, honestly," Vanessa admits.

Officer Vanessa Martin says she is currently working towards her Master's Degree at UW-Milwaukee, and that she hopes to someday move into a social worker position at MSDF.

Lt. Efrim Martin started at MSDF in October of 2001. He says he does plan to retire sometime in the next three years, but has no firm plans on when he will leave DOC service.

  
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​(MADISON, Wis.) — The Wisconsin Department of Corrections recently welcomed Tifene Brown as the Department's first-ever Equity and Inclusion Chief. Brown will serve as the Department's chief program and policy advisor for equity and inclusion and workforce planning programs.

Since the beginning of his Administration, Governor Evers has set Equity and Inclusion as a priority in the state. In his budget, Evers said, “A diverse, equitable, and inclusive government and society benefits all of us." During his most recent budget proposal, Evers asked for new chief equity officer positions to be created at the cabinet level for all state agencies. While the legislature did not approve this in the final budget, DOC made the decision to reallocate a position internally in order to create a new Equity and Inclusion Chief for the agency.  

We recently sat down with Tifene to get a sense of who she is and how she feels her role will assist in developing and implementing an organizational inclusion roadmap for the agency.

Tifene said to accurately represent who she is today, she has to go back to her childhood. Her family was part of the great migration, where thousands of African-Americans fled the south and came to the Midwest in search of more opportunities and a better life. Her uncle left Mississippi to come to Racine, and it wasn't long after that her aunt and mother followed, making Wisconsin their home.

This experience, according to Tifene, is a daily reminder of her “country-born, city-raised" roots. It has shaped every part of who she is today, from her southern hospitality as she waves hello to everyone she encounters or in her Midwest, down-to-earth demeanor.

Tifene spent 12 years of her career as a Probation and Parole Agent with the Division of Community Corrections before transitioning into education, most recently working as the Director of Student Success at Alverno College in Milwaukee. When asked about how her career took form, Tifene talked about her time as an Agent. “At the time, I was simply looking for stable employment", said Tifene. “I am a mom and had a family. Having a good job and benefits was my priority."

It wasn't until Tifene started working as an agent that she realized how the role supported many of her interests and strengths. “The more I learned my position, the more I started to enjoy it and realize I was exactly where I was meant to be. I've always been someone who connects easily with people, and being an agent allowed me to connect with others and help them in ways others may not be able to."

Over the past several years, Tifene transitioned her skills into education. She began as an Admissions Counselor and worked her way up to the position of Director of Student Success. While this career change was a desirable move for Tifene, it did not come without its own set of challenges. “Early on as an Admission Counselor, I felt as though there was this unspoken expectation to represent everyone who was a minority. Ultimately I felt as if I was doing two jobs instead of having the recognition that we needed to do more work in this area and have better representation for our students."

This experience, however, propelled Tifene into looking for solutions. “I'm the type of person that is always looking for how we can make something better, so I just got right into the, 'how can I resolve this or fix it' mode." While serving at Alverno College, Tifene focused on increasing retention of African American and underrepresented students by employing a Holistic Advising Framework. Tifene meaningfully contributed to the Equity and Inclusion goals of the college by supporting and advocating for students. Now Tifene is looking to take her experience and apply it to her role as Equity and Inclusion Chief in DOC.

“While I'm new to the role, I am not new to this type of work", says Tifene. She is a Gallup certified Clifton Strengths coach, which is an assessment tool used to measure a person's talents and their patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving. Tifene states, “I hope to bring my skills as a coach into this current position and help people incorporate their strengths into their work. Part of my own strength is being able to shape the narrative around who people are and what they are good at. I don't look at people through a lens of weaknesses or deficits, instead I look at the whole person from a strength-based and positive approach and empower each person to be the best they can be."

Tifene is also working on her Educational Doctoral Degree at Alverno College and hopes that she can use her education to assist her as she takes on this new role in DOC.


  
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(NEW LISBON, Wis.) — Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC) Deputy Secretary Jared Hoy joined representatives from Western Technical College recently, to recognize a group of men at New Lisbon Correctional Institution (NLCI) who have completed their training in the facility's Electro-Mechanical Mobile Training Lab.

“I used to feel, as many of the guys here may feel, I was sentenced to rot, away from my loved ones," said Anthony, one of the student speakers at NLCI's May 23 graduation ceremony. “I have come to realize that fate had a plan for me and all of us. Our mistakes and poor decisions led us here, but it has been a great opportunity in disguise. If we hadn't had our worst days, we wouldn't have been in this position to rebuild our lives."

The Electro-Mechanical students earned a certificate of completion from Western Technical College, which supplies the instruction and curriculum for the mobile training lab. Their recognition was part of a larger graduation ceremony, NLCI's first graduation event since August of 2018.

Other people in DOC care at NLCI were honored at the ceremony for completing their High School Equivalency Diploma, or completing their Computer Literacy Certificate, Customer Service Certificate, Bakery Production course, or Woods: Carpentry and Framing course.

“Knowledge is indeed power. With the practical skills, training and instruction we have received, each of us is better prepared and empowered to succeed and prosper in our future lives as members of the greater community," said Richard, another of the student speakers.

Three groups have completed training in the Electro-Mechanical Mobile Training Lab since it arrived at NLCI, with a fourth group currently learning in the Lab. Western Technical College said its collaboration with DOC is focused on the Electro-Mechanical field because there is a need for these workers in Wisconsin.

“Electro-Mechanical is very hands-on. It's also very high-demand. In Western's district, there's over 200 jobs annually that are available. Those starting wages are between $50,000-$60,000 a year. Individuals can earn up to $100,000 once they've been in the industry a while. So, the need is there from our employers," said Dean Josh Gamer in Western Technical College's Integrated Technology Division, adding that the college tries to act as a conduit to connect those releasing from DOC with Electro-Mechanical training to potential employers.

“Here's the support on the front end, to get you through the program," Dean Gamer explained. “And when you're read to try and do this as a career, we have employers that want to meet you, because there is huge demand and there are employers who are willing to say, 'We definitely believe in second chances.'"  

“I was on a road to nowhere," Anthony told those attending the ceremony. “Now, we all have a brighter future to look forward to. After release, we have the chance to get great jobs in a field that is high demand."


  
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​(MADISON, Wis.) — Several Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC) Probation and Parole units recently installed Nalox-Zone Boxes in their offices, the agency's latest step to help combat a growing opioid epidemic among clients on supervision.

A Nalox-Zone Box is a rescue kit designed to help prevent death from an opioid overdose. It resembles the AED devices often found in public buildings, except it contains naloxone. Naloxone, which may be better known by one of its brand names, Narcan, is a medicine designed to rapidly reverse an opioid overdose. Each box contains two doses of Narcan, a rescue breathing apparatus to be used for CPR, a community resource card and instructions for how to reverse a suspected opioid overdose. 

“Opioid use and overdoses are a major concern in Wisconsin communities and among people on DOC supervision," noted Wisconsin DOC Division of Community Corrections (DCC) Assistant Administrator Dr. Autumn Lacy. “We're looking for ways to try and address this epidemic through our policies, procedures and various initiatives." 

DCC's Harm Reduction Workgroup recommended to pilot the use of these boxes after learning that Nalox-Zone Boxes were being used as a harm reduction strategy by various states, as well as other public and private agencies throughout Wisconsin. DOC is partnering with Wisconsin Voices for Recovery, a group based in Madison that purchased the boxes, will maintain them and provide the Narcan. Boxes have been placed in several DCC offices throughout the state, with more scheduled for installation in the near future.

“Access to naloxone and related products by our clients is one opportunity to reduce opioid harm," Dr. Lacy said. “We're using our DCC waiting rooms for product accessibility because they are high-traffic areas. The boxes were installed in the entry way in an effort to support anonymity and focus on the lifesaving impact that administering naloxone can have on clients the department is serving."

Wisconsin Voices for Recovery is working to place Nalox-Zone Boxes in other spaces in Wisconsin communities, not just DCC offices. In Fiscal Year 2021, DOC had 964 reported overdoses among clients on supervision, with 154 resulting in death DOC recently created an overdose death review team to identify gaps in resources, and to recommend policy and practice changes to address these gaps. In addition, some DCC probation and parole agents have started providing naloxone to clients that are at risk of an opioid overdose. DCC is aware that this initiative has helped save lives of those on supervision. Along with the naloxone initiatives, DOC supports the funding of all three FDA approved medication assisted treatment options throughout the state. 


Division of Community Corrections (DCC) staff with the newest "Nalox-Zone Box" that was recently installed at the E. Johnson St. Office in Madison. The box was installed in the entry way in effort to support anonymit and focus on the lifesaving impact that adminstering naloxone can have on the clients Wisconsin DOC serves.

  
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​(MADISON, Wis.) — Leaders from Madison College and the Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC) honored graduates at the Racine Youthful Offender Correctional Facility (RYOCF) on Friday, May 20.

The honorees included the first group of students in DOC care to earn a Technical Diploma through Madison College's Second Chance Pell Grant program. The 12 students who participated in that program earned their Small Business Entrepreneurship diplomas while at RYOCF.

“These young men come from highly diverse backgrounds, but they all have one thing in common," said Dr. Jack Daniels III, president of Madison College. “They are looking for positive change in their lives and the college's Second Chance Pell Grant program is helping them achieve that."

While the dozen graduates represent the first group of people in DOC care to take part in Second Chance Pell through Madison College, the college is expanding the program and will have a projected enrollment of 60 students across six DOC facilities in the fall.

Wisconsin DOC also partners with Milwaukee Area Technical College to offer Second Chance Pell grants to people in the agency's care.

“I'm proud of our agency's collaboration with the state's technical colleges to make these opportunities available to those in our care," said RYOCF Warden Je'Leslie Taylor. “I'm also proud of the students honored today. It takes partnerships and resources, but it came down to each of these young men setting goals for themselves."

The ceremony also honored a group of young men at RYOCF who earned their High School Equivalency Diploma (HSED).

“It feels really good. I didn't think I could do. The teachers will tell you I used to want to give up, and they always pushed me to better myself and to keep going," said Junior Moreno, one of the HSED honorees. Moreno said he earned the diploma for himself and for his son.

“Just so I could show him a better way. I don't want him to have to come up and do the same things that I did," he added.

Madison College was among a new group of schools included in the U.S. Department of Education's expansion of the Second Chance Pell Experimental Sites Initiative in 2020. The initiative provides need-based Pell grants to people in state and federal prisons. The U.S. Department of Education announced last month that more colleges are being added to this initiative, bringing the total number of schools able to participate in the Second Chance Pell Experiment to 200 nationwide. 

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