ALLOUEZ, Wis. (WFRV) – Dozens gathered outside Green Bay Correctional Institution Thursday evening to hold a prayer vigil for the inmates and to call for significant changes to be made to improve conditions for both inmates and prison employees.
“This place needs to be closed. It’s just not a fit place for people to live and work,” WISDOM Network state coordinator David Liners said. “It’s been going on month after month after month and there’s no sense of urgency on the part of the state to fix the problem. We’re here to say this has to end, it has to end now, and we need some major reform.”
GBCI has been under modified movement, or lockdown-like conditions, since June. It prevents inmates from leaving their cells for activities, including not being able to access medical treatment, and only being able to shower once per week.
“The punishment, the consequence, the accountability is to separate people from society. It’s not to make them live in squalor,” Liners said. “I think the Department of Corrections has finally admitted that it’s because they can’t keep the place staffed.”
According to job posting sites like LinkedIn and ZipRecruiter, there are at least 15 different job openings at GBCI, everything from correctional officers to psychologists, nurses, and dentists.
“Nobody wants to restrict access to any of the activities offered at our facilities, but the safety of our staff and those in our care is a priority,” DOC spokesperson Kevin Hoffman said via email. “We will continue to assess the operations at this facility and incrementally increase participation in all activities when it can be done in a way that’s safe for everyone involved.”
Liners said that in addition to the worker shortage, there are too many inmates for the prison system to be able to handle – and there are thousands imprisoned that do not need to be.
“We have plenty of people in our prisons who don’t need to be there. Who are there for crimeless revocations, people who are in for very minor things, people that could be moved back into the community, there would be plenty of room,” he said. “There are 5,000 people in our prisons who are there because of crimeless revocations. They’re not there because they committed a new crime, they’re there because they broke a rule.”
Molly Hayden said that is the same with her son, who is located two hours away at the Columbia Correctional Institution, who committed a nonviolent offense. She came to the vigil on Thursday to call for improvements to medical care in prison.
Hayden said that her son is dealing with the effects of limited movement at CCI, and can not get the cancer treatment he needs because of it.
“My son has been diagnosed with cancer, and due to staff shortages and the lockdown, somehow the medical records have gotten lost,” she said.
Her son has stage 2 colon cancer and was operated on in July after being imprisoned in June. But Hayden claims that the cancer has spread to his stomach because he has not had any follow-up treatment due to the lost medical records.
Even as an outside civilian, Hayden said the disorganization of the prison system is consuming her life with fear.
“This has been the most horrific time of my life,” she said. “I wait for his phone call, if he gets one, at seven or eight o’clock every morning, just to hear his voice. Because I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Hayden said that she cries herself to sleep every night, and her son is the first thing on her mind when she wakes up.
But for so many others in society, Liners said that those in prison are an easily forgotten demographic, and one of the most common for injustice to occur against.
“People are out of sight and out of mind, it’s easy to forget what happens behind those walls,” Liners said. “I think that’s why people came out today, to say we need to pay attention to what’s happening, those are human beings back there.”