1,000 people of faith rally at the state capitol, demand treatment instead of prison
On Thursday, March 14, more than 1,000 supporters of Criminal Justice Reform gathered in Madison to call for change. Clergy and congregants comprising 17 different faith traditions joined together to profoundly impact funding for treatment and alternatives to incarceration in Wisconsin.
A powerful rally highlighted the need for prison reform and furthered the call for a greater investment in treatment and alternatives to incarceration as key religious leaders spoke to the issue.
Every legislator in the state capitol was reached as those in attendance met with the senator and assembly member that represents them to call for a $75 million investment in the state budget for alternatives to incarceration.
In Wisconsin, we know we have too many people in our prisons and we know the solution. We know that Treatment Alternatives and Diversions (TAD) work. They are cheaper and more effective than jail and prison time for low-risk offenders. There is no excuse for our legislature and Governor to delay any further. Every day we wait is a day of wasted money and wasted human potential.
The evidence is in. The time is now. Expand TAD to $75 million in this budget; save more than $75 million in the next budget.
Wisconsin leads nation in black male incarceration rates
Wisconsin has the highest black male incarceration rate in the United States, according to the 2010 decennial census. The rate (1 out of 8 African American men ages 18-64 were in state prisons and local jails in April 2010) is nearly double that of the nation as a whole and 32% higher than the next worst state (Oklahoma). The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Employment and Training Institute released a new study on Wisconsin’s Mass Incarceration of African American Males: Workforce Challenges for 2013.
The prison population in Wisconsin has more than tripled since 1990, fueled by increased government funding for drug enforcement (rather than treatment) and prison construction, three-strike rules, mandatory minimum sentence laws, truth-in-sentencing replacing judicial discretion in setting punishments, concentrated policing in minority communities, and state incarceration for minor probation and supervision violations. Particularly impacted were African American males, with the 2010 U.S. Census showing Wisconsin having the highest black male incarceration rate in the nation. In Milwaukee County over half of African American men in their 30s have served time in state prison.
We are not any safer. Our state’s incarceration rate has grown dramatically in recent decades. The system we now have is wasteful (we spend more than twice as much per year on Corrections as our neighbors in Minnesota, though we have similar populations), it is ineffective (our overuse of prisons and jails makes us less safe than we would be if we used more alternatives), and it is unfair (the racial disparities in Wisconsin’s prison system are among the worst in the nation).
Incarceration comes with a cost. We pay a huge human price for our overuse of incarceration. Families and communities have been destroyed. Costs have risen dramatically. The cost of Corrections in Wisconsin has risen from under $200 million per year in 1990 to more than $1.3 billion in 2011.
There are effective options. The good news is that alternatives to incarceration that are being proven effective every day in our state. Counties have established numerous programs: drug treatment courts, mental health courts, day report centers, universal screening, mental health courts, and more. We are learning, decisively and overwhelmingly, that alternatives to incarceration are effective by most any measure:
- Alternatives to incarceration nearly all result in markedly lower recidivism rates. That is, offenders in alternative programs tend to be rehabilitated and not to re-offend, while incarcerated offenders are more likely to commit another offense upon release
- Alternatives to incarceration are more likely to result in restoring the offender to health, especially those suffering from mental illness and/or addictions.
- Alternatives to incarceration save taxpayers a great deal of money. Most save at least $2 for every dollar spent.
Join us in moving our state in a better direction. The 11X15 goal is reasonable and possible. Even after it is achieved, Wisconsin will still have a higher rate of incarceration than Minnesota. What is needed if for the people of Wisconsin to demand a change!
Visit us often on this site. We will post links to resources for faith communities, as well as resources for the general public. We will try to keep up with the scores of articles published every month that demonstrate the need for our leaders to start being smart on crime, and to stop wasting our money and the lives of so many of our neighbors.