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Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2012

Making Corrections Work for the Community

Plus: Hero of the Week

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Last week, the Milwaukee Inner-City Congregations Allied for Hope (MICAH) launched its 11x15 Campaign for Justice to reduce Wisconsin’s prisoner population to 11,000 by 2015.

MICAH’s goal isn’t impossible. And last week’s optimistic and spirited meeting showed that the campaign has enough support from members of the criminal justice system, the business community, the faith community, Milwaukee families and ex-offenders to make it happen. The only thing missing is the will to change our corrections system at the state Capitol.

MICAH’s goal of reducing the prison population from its current 23,000 prisoners to a more sane, cost-efficient and effective 11,000 can be done. In fact, it’s the Wisconsin way. As Stan Stojkovic, dean of the Helen Bader School of Social Welfare at UW-Milwaukee, noted at last Thursday’s gathering, Wisconsin was always at the forefront of progressive justice ideas. In fact, Wisconsin is the birthplace of the Huber law, which has allowed generations of offenders to retain their jobs, support their families and rehabilitate themselves without further damaging their lives.

But Wisconsin’s progressive criminal justice system took a turn for the worse in the 1980s and 1990s, when then-Gov. Tommy Thompson, Attorney General Jim Doyle and “tough on crime” legislators like Scott Walker backed budget-busting prison facilities and truth-in-sentencing guidelines that have made our system utterly unworkable. Wisconsin taxpayers are footing the $1.3 billion bill annually for a system that does little to reduce crime and recidivism, rehabilitate offenders, hold families harmless or improve our communities.

The system is so unworkable that Dennis Kuester—current Bradley Foundation board member and former M&I CEO and former chair of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC) and the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC)—told the crowd that solving Wisconsin’s corrections system problem was a “nonpartisan issue” and a “budget issue.” It’s basic economics, Kuester said: Every dollar spent on drug or alcohol treatment saves almost two dollars of prison costs.

It simply doesn’t make sense to hang onto a “lock ’em up” mentality that has proven to be a failure.

To learn more about MICAH’s 11x15 campaign, go to prayforjusticeinwi.org—and keep reading the Shepherd.

Heroes of the Week: Peace Learning Center of Milwaukee Facilitators and Volunteers

The Peace Learning Center of Milwaukee (PLC) is a significant community resource that provides fourth- through eighth-grade children and teachers workshops about nonviolent conflict resolution, healthy communication skills and peace-building behaviors to help successfully manage daily conflict. PLC also provides nonviolent resolution speakers for student assemblies, civic organizations and faith communities. This nonprofit has taught 6,746 children over the past 10 years and supports teachers by supplying books, posters and guides to reinforce positive conflict resolution methods in the classroom. “Peacemakers’ Workshops” are held at the Friends Meeting House (3224 N. Gordon Place) and are run by three trained facilitators and one to two volunteers. These facilitators and volunteers also visit the classroom for two booster sessions after each workshop to reinforce the skills learned and to assess the students’ progress.

“The volunteers and facilitators are awesome,” says Tara Serebin, executive director of PLC. “We would be lost without them.”

PLC is always looking for new schools interested in scheduling workshops and also welcomes people to see the workshops firsthand. In addition, the organization is in need of monetary donations, copy cards, snacks and general office supplies, as well as volunteers to work on committees, help with office tasks and assist with workshops. For more information about getting a school involved, volunteer opportunities or donating, please contact Tara Serebin at 414-350-4721 or peacelearning@sbcglobal.net.