Milwaukee County is widely recognized for collaboration and innovation in criminal justice reform. In recent years, it has redesigned its system, integrating risk and need assessments by implementing universal screening for individuals booked into the jail. The evidence-based practice provides risk information to be used when making a pretrial release decision. Evidence-based strategies for pretrial supervision and early intervention programs including diversion and deferred prosecutions were developed. Milwaukee has also successfully shortened probation supervision. To continue building on past reform efforts, Milwaukee County was awarded $2 million from the Safety and Justice Challenge in 2016 to invest in strategies that will responsibly reduce the average daily jail population over the next two years.
To safely reduce its jail population, Milwaukee County will focus on three policy areas that will: reduce the length of stay for low-level non-violent misdemeanants; divert individuals with mental health and substance abuse issues to alternatives that will help prevent them from cycling in and out of Milwaukee’s criminal justice system; and provide more trauma-informed response options to justice system stakeholders. The county, for example, will implement a book and release program in the city of Milwaukee – a program already in place in the surrounding suburban districts – for low-level non-violent misdemeanor offenders. An integrated approach to mental health services will also allow the county to share data across agencies and provide law enforcement with enhanced resources and alternatives other than arrest and jail. Milwaukee city residents also live in the highest areas of concentrated violent crime and therefore experience greater levels of trauma on a daily basis compared to suburban residents. The trauma-informed training for law enforcement and community members, combined with the family violence diversion/deferred prosecution efforts, will improve access to necessary services for city residents and reduce the overreliance on jail and criminal justice sanctions as a response to traumatic events.