Waupun and Oshkosh Correctional Institutions are emblematic of the enduring inhumane nature of criminal justice and incarceration. They were founded more than a century apart; one established well before the abolishment of slavery in the United States. The other, founded on the front end of the War on Drugs era.
The racial disparities present within each of these institutions coincide with the centuries they were founded in; Waupun Correctional Institution, a maximum security prison in Waupun, Wisconsin, hosts a 59% African American population, and a 36% white population. Oshkosh Correctional Institution, a medium security prison that was founded in a purportedly more civil period of United States history, has a 31% African American population and 64% white populace. African Americans comprise 6.7% of the Wisconsin population.
Waupun and Oshkosh Correctional Institutions make up 11% of the total Wisconsin Department of Corrections positive COVID 19 cases for staff, and these two institutions comprise 16% of the total WI DOC positive COVID 19 cases for prisoners. WCI and OCI are only two of 37 state correctional institutions in Wisconsin, yet they account for 32% of the total number of COVID 19 in-custody deaths that have occurred within the Wisconsin Department of Corrections.
It is impossible for the public to know for certain what is happening within prison walls. The veil protecting all-things-law-enforcement is adept at preventing transparency, but not well equipped to protect the welfare of people within the correction system’s charge. Over half of the entire Wisconsin prison population has contracted COVID 19—people who were sentenced to a term of incarceration according to law, are now receiving a possible death sentence due to negligence.
The State Legislature has done nothing to address the mass spread of COVID 19 within Wisconsin prisons. In fact, some Wisconsin Legislators have taken it upon themselves to try to deprioritize incarcerated people in SARS-CoV-2 Coronavirus vaccine distribution. This de-prioritization stands in direct opposition to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations that state, “Jurisdictions are encouraged to vaccinate staff and incarcerated/detained persons of correctional or detention facilities at the same time because of their shared increased risk of disease.” According to Senate Bill 8, prisoners are not to be vaccinated until 21 days after the public—this course of action is reminiscent of the “back of the bus mentality” of the 1960’s Jim Crow South.
What you can do as a member of the voting public, is contact your legislator. These public figures are complicit in sending the message that in times of crisis, it is acceptable to discontinue showing empathy and compassion toward those who are unable to protect themselves.
Tell your state representatives—it is time to end mass incarceration in Wisconsin. Divest from incarceration and invest in the futures of our people.