President Obama: Solitary confinement ‘not smart’ and ‘not going to make us safer’

President Barack Obama called for reduction of solitary confinement during a July 14 address to the NAACP National Convention in Philadelphia:

“I’ve asked my Attorney General to start a review of the overuse of solitary confinement across American prisons. “The social science shows that an environment like that is often more likely to make inmates more alienated, more hostile, potentially more violent. Do we really think it makes sense to lock so many people alone in tiny cells for 23 hours a day, for months, sometimes for years at a time? That is not going to make us safer. That’s not going to make us stronger.

Billionaire Charles Koch: ‘Reversing overcriminalization and mass incarceration will improve societal well-being’

In a Jan. 7 column for Politico Magazine, billionaire Charles Koch said the United States is paying a “heavy price” for leading the world in incarceration, driving a large number of people into poverty and harming the national economy. “Reversing overcriminalization and mass incarceration will improve societal well-being in many respects, most notably by decreasing poverty,” Koch wrote in the column co-authored with Koch Industries general counsel Mark Holden. “Fixing our criminal system could reduce the overall poverty rate as much as 30 percent, dramatically improving the quality of life throughout society — especially for the disadvantaged.”

Former Wisconsin inmate Talib Akbar, seen here in the RV that he now calls home, discusses the psychological toll that spending years in isolation can have on a prisoner. He said he doesn’t mind living in his 1981 Dodge Country Squire. “I’m free to go. So I’m happy.”

Making friends with a fly: One man’s story of solitary confinement

Former inmate Talib Akbar says years spent in segregation in the Wisconsin prison system took a toll on his mind. Akbar now lives alone in a small RV that he parks around Madison while volunteering for Wisdom, a statewide faith-based group that campaigns against solitary confinement. The drawing Akbar made while confined in a cell at the Wisconsin Secure Program Facility in Boscobel was used to help make a mock-up of a typical 6-foot-2-wide, 12-foot-long segregation cell that Wisdom takes to public events to raise awareness about solitary confinement. Akbar, 62, served a 20-year sentence for sexual assault until his release in 2013. He said he has never added up the exact amount of time he spent in solitary.

From ‘isolation panic’ to ‘social death’: Going crazy in solitary

Craig Haney is a University of California-Santa Cruz psychologist who for more than two decades has studied the effects of solitary confinement on inmates. During a 2013 interview for PBS’ Frontline program, Haney described what happens to people held under such deprivation. “Some prisoners react very negatively very quickly. They experience what has been termed ‘isolation panic,’ ” Haney told Frontline. “The experience of being in a cell by oneself, isolated in a place where other prisoners are isolated, facing the deprivation of social contact, is overwhelming for people, and some people react with extreme anxiety reactions in the very beginning of this process.

Andy Carlson, who has volunteered at Valley of the Kings for about 20 years, leans in to speak to a tiger living at the sanctuary in Sharon. Carlson said many of the animals at Valley of the Kings have been caught up in the “underground market” of exotic animal trade. Some critics say Wisconsin’s lax exotic animal laws make the state a draw for smugglers.

Wisconsin one of five states where ‘dangerous’ exotic animals can be pets

While the United Nations unanimously adopted its first resolution on July 30 to curb illegal wildlife trafficking, Wisconsin’s lax laws make the state a draw for animal smugglers, critics say. The “lion-like” creature on the loose that prompted a massive police search in and around Milwaukee raised questions about the wisdom of allowing dangerous exotic animals to be kept as pets.

The highly deadly white-nose syndrome has spread rapidly since it was discovered in New York in 2006. The disease has killed millions of bats, including many in Wisconsin.

Feds seek public input on Midwest bat protection plan

In July 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is seeking the public’s suggestions regarding an environmental impact statement for an eight-state Midwestern plan designed to help conserve the habitats of several species of animals, including bats that can be harmed by wind turbines.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and legislative leaders will not say whether he had a role in a controversial proposal that would have gutted Wisconsin's open records law. WCIJ's coverage of Gov. Walker's stealth government won a bronze award for Best Public Service Story or Series.

Update: Gov. Scott Walker backs away from changes to open records law but is mum on his role

The governor and legislative leaders declined to say whether the governor himself was behind the original measure. A review by the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism shows similarities between recent records request denials from the governor’s office and the state Department of Administration and changes inserted in the budget Thursday by Republican leaders — similarities that raise questions about whether Walker himself was involved in the budget proposal.

In Hurley, Wis., a truck passes a mural depicting iron ore miners in July 2012. Some residents of Iron and Ashland counties residents hoped a planned iron ore mine would bring more than 700 jobs to the area, but Gogebic Taconite pulled its plan in February 2015.

Most northern counties left behind by Gov. Scott Walker’s jobs agency

While cities like Madison, Waukesha and Green Bay thrive economically, northern Wisconsin counties have been left behind in the state’s economic development efforts. Local economic development leaders share stories of being ineligible for economic development programs brought by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, a quasi-governmental agency created in 2011 by Republican Gov. Scott Walker. Northern counties are also receiving proportionally less help from the WEDC, with many local leaders saying they are ineligible or unable to meet basic requirements for certain programs or incentives.