Milwaukee County, WI


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.

  • In 2015, Milwaukee County had more than 33,500 jail bookings per year.
  • African Americans and Hispanics made up less than half (41%) of the population of Milwaukee County and yet comprised almost 70% of the local jail population.
  • Between October 2017 – September 2018, 26% of the pretrial jail population screened positive for a
  • history of mental health conditions.
  • Felony violations of probation were among the top ten most frequent reasons for jail bookings between May 2017 – April 2018.
  • Refining case processing to address system inefficiencies, shorten case length, and reduce length of stay.
  • Expanding existing initiatives to prevent cyclical system involvement among persons with mental health conditions.
  • Establishing public-private partnerships to support individuals returning to the community after incarceration.
  • Bolstering local capacity to describe the system-involved population in data and assess strategy impact.
  • Engaging the broader community, particularly individuals who are formerly incarcerated, in priority-setting and systems change.

Milwaukee County is supported by $2 million from the Safety and Justice Challenge over the next two years.

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