More than half of the nearly 8,000 people sent to Wisconsin prisons in 2013 were locked up without a trial, and they weren’t found guilty of new crimes. Some were punished for violating probation or parole by accepting a job without permission, using a cellphone or computer without authorization, or leaving their home county, says the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Re-incarcerating people for breaking rules costs Wisconsin taxpayers $100 million every year. The process that forces violators back behind bars relies largely on the judgment of individual parole agents, which vary widely. Once accused of violations, people on parole can be sent back to prison for years without proof beyond a reasonable doubt, and they are left with little chance of a successful appeal.
Hector Cubero’s agent recommended he be returned to prison on his original sentence of life with the possibility of parole after he inked a tattoo on the shoulder of a 15-year-old boy. Had Cubero been found guilty of tattooing a minor, a city ordinance violation, he would have been ticketed and fined $200. Because he was on parole at the time, Cubero, 52, has served more than two years — with no guarantee he will ever go home. “Due process has just completely gone to hell,” said Pamela Oliver, a sociology professor at the University of Wisconsin who has studied the state’s prison system. “When they’re sent back, the vast majority had no new sentence. Even if they are arrested on a new crime, they go back to prison right away, and the new crime might not even be charged.”