by Luke Ulatowski
For The Beacon
The crowded prisons of Sheboygan County are a hot topic among community members, and a local woman and her church are rallying concerned residents to make a difference.
Sue Kaiser, a member of Ebenezer United Church of Christ on Saemann Avenue in Sheboygan, conceived a series of upcoming community discussions on the topic of prison reform. “I’m trying not to be the mass director of all of this as much as I’m trying to be the catalyst to help let it unfold and see what happens,” Kaiser said. So far, two more discussions are scheduled: Thursdays July 25 and August 22 at 6 p.m. inside Ebenezer Church.
The high inmate numbers at the Sheboygan County Adult Detention Center came to the spotlight in February 2019 after a group of county officials including Administrator Adam Payne and Sheriff Cory Roeseler received approval from the Finance Committee to hire a consultant for exploring jail expansion options and alternatives. In March, the Detention Center Oversight Committee was formed with the objective to “decrease average daily population of Sheboygan County correctional facilities.”
The special task force’s members include Payne, Roeseler, Captain of Patrol Services & Criminal Investigations Chad Broeren, Jail Administrator Paul Brinkman, Deputy Jail Administrator Pat Bricco, Finance Director Wendy Charnon and others. Kaiser stated she had sat in on one of the committee’s meetings. “I’ve emailed to Adam Payne,” she said. “I’m hoping that some of the people from that committee, if not Adam himself, show up. Different government agencies have also been invited.”
According to the Sheriff’s Department, as of June 24, the Detention Center houses 422 inmates. However, this number includes an unspecified number of inmates who are out on electronic monitoring. The facility was built to house 295.
The Kettle Moraine Correctional Institution (KMCI) in Elkhart Lake is also crowded. At the time of KMCI’s May 21 Community Relations meeting, the inmate population was listed at 1,178, though the operating capacity is 783. Warden Jennifer McDermott called overcrowding “the biggest challenge” the institution is currently facing.
Apart from the recent press that county prisons have been getting, Kaiser was inspired to start a conversation based on her experiences with inmates. “It started because it’s a personal ministry of mine,” she said. “I have worked with incarcerated women for the last two-and-a half to three years, and through that work, have just found that—I’m sure it happens in every county, but I’m just going to speak for my county, in Sheboygan County—there seems to be a lack of connection between all of the different organizations that help, be that church or government organizations.”
At her church, Kaiser leads the Prison Reform Ministry Team. According to Kaiser, as part of her ministry, she is currently working with several women who have recently been released from prison, providing for needs that come with the territory such as monetary assistance for reinstating licenses and reregistering vehicles.
Kaiser stated that the women she has worked with were often confused about “where they had to go and who to talk with” due to a lack of communication between organizations. “My hope is that perhaps rather than acting as single entities, we can band together as a community to be much more helpful to the people we’re trying to serve,” she said.
While much of Kaiser’s work thus far has been with women, they are not the sole focus of Kaiser’s initiative. “It would be wide open for any way the group so feels it needs to move,” she said of the planned community discussions. “I’m hoping it would be much broader than just women, that it would definitely include male incarcerated persons, juvenile incarcerated persons and their families because there’s so much more that’s affected than just the person that’s incarcerated.” Still, she is hopeful that some of the women she has helped will show up.
Beyond inviting prominent community members such as Payne, Kaiser plans to mail and email various organizations and officials about any progress the community makes at the planned discussions.
All are invited to the community discussions. Kaiser can be contacted at (920) 946-5563.