Nearly 3,000 people in Wisconsin were sent back to prison last year even though they were not found guilty of new crimes, says a new report from a prison-reform group, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Some were on probation when the violations occurred. Others had been released from custody but were still being supervised by the Department of Corrections. About 70 percent of them were suspected of criminal activity, the department says. Because they were not formally charged, they did not have due process rights in court. These ex-offenders were re-incarcerated for “technical violations,” which can include things such as accepting a job without permission, missing a meeting with their probation and parole officer, or leaving their home counties.
The process that forces violators back behind bars relies largely on the judgment of parole agents, which can vary widely. Once they are 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. “Living this life where you’re always on edge — and concerned that you might get sent back at any moment — really disrupts people’s lives more than it needs to, and it harms people’s ability to put their lives back together,” said David Liners of WISDOM, a statewide group of faith leaders and activists dedicated to prison reform. WISDOM commissioned the study by Human Impact Partners, a California-based organization that aims to uncover policies that negatively affect the health of communities. Incarcerating people for technical violations cost Wisconsin taxpayers $147 million in 2015. Not only does the practice fail to improve public safety, it may actually increase crime, the study says, citing research at the University of Minnesota. It also can have negative implications both for the people returned to prison and for their families and society.