Milwaukee County is widely recognized for criminal justice innovation and collaboration. Over the last 10 years, it has redesigned its system, including the use of risk and needs assessments with universal screening for individuals booked into the jail. This practice provides judges with risk information to help inform pretrial release decisions and has facilitated the development of evidence-based strategies for pretrial supervision and early intervention programs, including diversions and deferred prosecutions.
Since joining the Challenge in 2015, Milwaukee County has made demonstrable gains in resources, partnerships, and policy improvements. The Milwaukee Police Department introduced a policy to divert individuals arrested for non-violent misdemeanor offenses to a district station for booking, release, and referral to the District Attorney’s Office in lieu of admission to jail. The Challenge grant funded the first countywide Crisis Assessment Response Team (CART), which responds to crisis calls across the county, links individuals with community resources, and prevents jail admissions tied to mental health crises. Milwaukee launched a diversion program, called Post-Booking Stabilization (PBS), to prevent cyclical involvement in the criminal justice system by connecting participants to mental health treatment and support in the community. With the goal of becoming a trauma-informed criminal justice system, nearly 500 stakeholders were trained on how being trauma-informed improves system outcomes. Milwaukee extended deferred prosecution agreements to individuals involved in family violence. Upon receiving consent from the victim, defendants may enter agreements, which require completion of a domestic violence offender program. The Milwaukee Community Justice Council created integrated data dashboards that track jail population trends as well as racial and ethnic disparities in the criminal justice system.
Milwaukee experienced a 9% reduction in its jail population since 2015, a total decline of 33% from 2008, when the county launched significant system improvements. To build on its achievements to date, Milwaukee County was awarded an additional $2.3 million from the Safety and Justice Challenge in 2019 to invest in strategies that will continue to responsibly reduce overreliance on the local jail and address racial and ethnic disparities in the criminal justice system over the next two years.
Milwaukee County’s plans for this next phase of work include four focus areas:
- Increasing efficiency and streamlining movement of cases through the criminal justice system;
- Identifying people with mental health conditions and linking them to community resources;
- Introducing community-based interventions to prevent persons from reentering the criminal justice system after incarceration; and
- Expanding local capacity to monitor data, address jail population trends, and develop additional strategies for responsible jail reduction.
These improvements will be paired with significant investment in community engagement.