The misuse and overuse of jails is one of the greatest drivers of over-incarceration in the United States.
The Safety & Justice Challenge (SJC) represents a significant 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 communities selected to join the SJC Network in 2016.
Since its public launch, the network has grown into a collaborative of 52 cities, counties, and states. Together, these jurisdictions are modeling and inspiring innovations to create fairer, more effective local justice systems.
Sites receive funding and expert technical assistance to advance criminal justice system improvements, reduce racial and ethnic disparities, and strengthen community engagement.
Milwaukee County is widely recognized for criminal justice innovation and collaboration. Over the last 10 years, it 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 & Justice Challenge. The Challenge has involved multiple 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.
- Milwaukee was invited to apply for a third SJC phase to continue its work. The Milwaukee Community Justice Council was awarded SJC Phase III funds in 2019.
What We're Doing
To reduce overreliance on the local jail, over the next two years, Milwaukee County is focusing on 5 areas:
- Refined Case Processing increases efficiency and streamlines movement of cases through the criminal justice system
- Mental Health Diversion identifies people with mental health conditions and links them to resources in the community
- Reentry Support introduces community-based interventions to prevent individuals from reentering the criminal justice system after incarceration
- Expanded Data Capacity allows stakeholders to monitor trends in the criminal justice process, track SJC progress, and inform policy with accurate data
- Community Engagement involves the broader community in system change and priority-setting
- Funded the first Crisis Assessment Response Team (CART) with countywide jurisdiction to prevent jail admissions tied to mental health crises
- Launched Post-Booking Stabilization, a mental health diversion program
- Trained 495 stakeholders on the impact of trauma in the justice system
- Established policy to reduce jail bookings tied to non-violent misdemeanors
- Began offering deferred prosecution agreements in certain non-violent, misdemeanor domestic violence cases
- Near completion of data dashboards to monitor criminal justice system trends and inform policy decisions
Chief Judge Maxine A. White describes local efforts to change our response to mental health
For More Information
Follow the MacArthur Foundation Safety & Justice Challenge and join the #RethinkJails conversation on Facebook and Twitter.
SJC Project Manager - Milwaukee County
(414) 276-8240 x 9 | Email