On January 15, the actual birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Reentry Central staff members had the honor to sit down and talk with Joe and Joyce Ellwanger, two long time civil rights activists who had firsthand experience with Dr. King during the marches at Birmingham, and Selma, Alabama.
Today the Ellwangers are actively involved in helping to bring about criminal justice reform in Wisconsin. After listening to the Ellwangers speak about WISDOM, an organization that includes 12 congregation-based community organizations that have helped put together the 11 X15 Blueprint for Ending Mass Incarceration in Wisconsin, Reentry Central felt that it was only fitting to spotlight this remarkable organization on the day Dr. King’s birth is officially celebrated.
The following are highlights from the 11 X 15 Blueprint for Ending Mass Incarceration in Wisconsin:
Wisconsin spends more than $1.2 billion per year on the Department of Corrections. A few years ago, the state allocated more taxpayer money to its prison budget than to the entire University of Wisconsin system.
Multiple studies reveal little relationship between crime rates and incarceration rates. The only connection is that excessive incarceration of low-risk offenders actually increases the likelihood that they will commit a crime in the future.
Wisconsin has the nation’s highest rate of incarceration for African American and Native American males. If you’re a black male in this state, your incarceration rate is 13 percent, nearly double the national average. More than half of all African American men from Milwaukee County in their 30’s and early 40’s have been or are incarcerated. The Native American incarceration rate in Wisconsin is 7.6 percent, more than twice the national average.
Wisconsin has nearly 3,000 people in its prisons who have long been eligible to be released on parole. A broken, out-of-control parole system has denied them a fair chance to be freed and get on with their lives. Many of these inmates have been evaluated as being of minimal risk to
society. They have completed every required rehabilitative program. The Governor could order an immediate fix to this injustice.
The largest number of people entering Wisconsin prisons are reentering. Nearly 5,000 people return to our prisons every year. About 4,000 of them have not committed a new crime. They are being “revoked” back to prison for violation of a rule of supervision or parole.
In 30 years Wisconsin’s prison population has grown by more than 1,000 percent, from approximately 2,000 in 1974 to more than 22,000 in November 2014.
Wisconsin’s Truth-in-Sentencing law, authored by Governor Walker when he was in the state Assembly, went into effect Jan. 1, 2000. People sentenced under this new law do not have a possibility of parole and must serve every day of court-imposed sentences.
Read the complete 11 x 15 Blueprint which includes several recommendations that can reduce mass incarceration in Wisconsin while increasing public safety here.