Personal Reflection: Milwaukee County House of Correction Tour 2021
September 24, 2021 — As a graduate student completing a master's degree in criminal justice, it is easy to fall complacent to the belief that you know everything you need to know in order to put the knowledge you have obtained into effective practice. Throughout my academic career, I have learned the theories surrounding criminal justice, the comparison of our justice system to those in other countries, and the different ways that one may come into contact with our justice system. However, one thing my education has lacked is the exposure to the criminal justice system in practice. The lack of this exposure also means a deeper lack of understanding of the experiences of those coming into contact with the criminal justice system, as well as those either working in or partnering with the criminal justice system. My internship at Milwaukee Community Justice Council has equipped me with experiences that have addressed this issue, and I would like to highlight the experience of the House of Correction Tour and what it has taught me.
With a population of 634 residents, and the core value to allow justice-involved individuals to thrive while addressing their needs, it was impressive to hear the various programs and initiatives created to meet the needs of the residents. Benedict Center's Women's Reentry Program, the Franklin Alternative Youth Program, and the Joseph Project are three programs that convinced me of the importance of including literature surrounding local correctional facilities in higher education curriculum. These programs provide residents with the opportunity to gain college level course credit, gain skills regarding raising children, participate in trauma-informed coping mechanisms, and obtain employment once they are released. Not only do these programs stand as an example to the commitment of the core values of human, competency, and community, but it also highlights the active participation that workers within the facility have in nurturing the residents to be their best selves. Without participating in this tour, I would have continued to hold the belief that correctional officers, per the literature, only uphold security in the facility while dealing with significant amounts of stress in their position. The social environment and opportunities in the facility are different than what is explained in the literature, so much so that the physical environment of the House of Correction was also opposite of what I was expecting.
The tour leaders walked the participants through the cells, a classroom, the library, the Alternative Care Facility, gym, screen printing room, and various open rooms where residents were watching an online Submit. I had no prior exposure to a correctional facility outside of this tour, which contributed to the ideology that the facility was going to be dirty, dreary, and a generally negative environment that residents would not be able to thrive in. Instead, the facility was well taken care of and maintained a positive energy that the residents could strive in. While being aware of why the residents are there, there was no sense of hopelessness as you would expect when you have only relied on literature and popular media. Being able to witness how the residents are living is beneficial when considering the diverse topics that criminal justice students will engage in surround correctional facilities, such as the facilities compared to alternative options, funding, and true effectiveness of them. Not only is there a lack of coverage regarding the actual physical environment of our correctional facilities in the curriculum, but there is also little coverage of the resources available to residents as well.
The resources I was most impressed with during the tour were those which dealt with mental health and addiction. Although it is apparent in the literature that residents may receive help once they are moved into a correctional facility, there are never any examples to go along with this claim. The House of Correction possesses opportunities like anger management classes, Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Program (AODA), grief and loss treatment, and help with adjusting to incarceration. A significant amount of the population in Milwaukee that become residents deal with at least one of these problems and these resources give the residents a better opportunity to tackle the problems that potentially contributed to their contact with the justice system. I believe that one of the most effective ways to lead someone to rehabilitation is to offer the individual help to surpass the difficulties they may have experienced before becoming a resident that they may also bring with them into the correctional facility.
The tour at the House of Correction was enlightening as a student but also as someone who is working towards a career in the justice system. This post does not cover all opportunities available to the residents but highlights those that provide more context regarding how this facility works to rehabilitate its residents. Not only did the tour provide real life context to the material studied during class, but it also outlined how correctional facilities partner with various organizations in the community. However, it is important to note that there is still room for growth as the resident population grows and crime becomes the center topic in the city of Milwaukee. The perspective and reality of the resident is typically glossed over or “othered” in the classroom, and had I not participated in this tour, I would still be ignorant to the different ways that I can contribute to the rehabilitation of a resident while in school.
- Amillia Heredia, CJC Summer Intern 2021