Milwaukee Community Justice Council

Safety and Justice Challenge

A nationwide effort to change the way we think about and use jails

The primary purpose of jails is to detain those awaiting trial who are a danger to public safety or a flight risk.

Jailing someone who is neither results in significant costs for families and communities — particularly communities of color — including lost income, parents separated from their children, untreated mental health and substance use challenges, a greater risk of re-offending, and wasted public dollars.

The Safety and Justice Challenge (SJC) represents a major investment by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to reduce over-incarceration by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails.


The Challenge Network

Milwaukee County was among 11 sites selected to join the SJC Network in 2016. 

Since its public launch, the network has grown into a collaborative of 57 cities, counties, and states. Together, these communities are modeling and inspiring innovations to create more fair, just, and equitable local justice systems across the country.

Sites receive funding and expert technical assistance to advance criminal justice system improvements, reduce racial and ethnic disparities, and strengthen community engagement.

What We're Doing

With MacArthur Foundation support, SJC partners are working to maintain appropriate use of local jail facilities. The CJC monitors the average daily jail population, or ADP, to track progress.

Using monthly jail data, Milwaukee County set its baseline ADP at 2,272 individuals in custody. As of December 2021, the ADP for Milwaukee County was 1,393 — a 39% decline from baseline. These figures account for the combined populations of the Criminal Justice Facility (CJF) and the House of Correction (HOC). 

To prevent unnecessary jail use and reduce disparities, the CJC is focused on 4 strategy areas:

  1. Case Processing increases efficiency and streamlines movement of cases through the criminal justice system
  2. Expanded Data Capacity allows stakeholders to monitor trends in the criminal justice process, track SJC progress, and inform policy with accurate data
  3. Mental Health Diversion identifies people with mental health needs and links them to resources in the community
  4. Racial Equity convenes system and community partners to measurably reduce disparities through decision point analysis, shared priority-setting, and training


Watch the video playlist above to learn more about our work

Our Impact

  • Funded the first Crisis Assessment Response Team (CART) with countywide jurisdiction to prevent jail admissions tied to mental health crises
  • Started mental health diversion and recruited a behavioral health liaison to conduct assessments in custody and connect people to community resources
  • Sponsored training and contracted for peer support services to assist people with mental health conditions
  • Launched Jail Population Review Team to identify system trends and cases that may be eligible for faster resolution and alternatives to incarceration
  • Hired an analyst to monitor jail population data and system bottlenecks
  • Created the Court Reminder Program to improve court appearance rates
  • Expanded capacity for diversions and deferred prosecution agreements
  • Instituted policies to reduce jail bookings tied to non-violent misdemeanors
  • Reduced incarceration due to unpaid citations by reexamining practices around fines and fees
  • Organized Home to Stay Resource Fairs to connect individuals who are returning to the community with supportive resources
  • Established the first Transitions Clinic model in the Midwest to help returning citizens with medical needs
  • Trained 550+ stakeholders on the impact of trauma in the justice system

Our History

Milwaukee County is widely recognized for criminal justice innovation and collaboration. Over the last decade, Milwaukee has redesigned its system, integrating risk and needs assessments by implementing universal screening for individuals booked into the jail. This practice provides risk information to be used when making pretrial release decisions and has guided the development of evidence-based strategies for pretrial supervision and early intervention programs, including diversions and deferred prosecutions.

The SJC initiative builds on these accomplishments, investing in innovative and common sense solutions to responsibly reduce unnecessary use of the jail.

The Milwaukee Community Justice Council launched reforms in 2008 to reexamine use of the local jail. To expand on initial efforts, Milwaukee requested the support of MacArthur Foundation through its Safety and Justice Challenge initiative. The Challenge has evolved over 4 phases:

  • SJC Phase I (2015) engaged jurisdictions across the country to participate in the planning and development of site-specific strategies.
  • SJC Phase II (2016 - 2018) provided funding and technical assistance to implement strategies that were identified during Phase I.
  • SJC Phase III (2019-2020) continued support for our work, including 4 new or modified strategies and added investments in community engagement.
  • SJC Phase IV (2021-2022) deepens our focus on racial equity and long-term sustainability. 

For More Information

Follow the MacArthur Foundation's Safety and Justice Challenge and join the #RethinkJails conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

Erin Perkins

SJC Project Manager - Milwaukee County

(414) 435-1257 | Email 

Milwaukee Community Justice Council


633 West Wisconsin Avenue - Suite 409, Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53203

Mandy Potapenko, Director

(414) 435-1250




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