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Milwaukee County Jail Makes Facility Changes, in Light of Assessment

The Milwaukee County Jail is making some adjustments to its facility’s operations. During a press conference Thursday, Interim Milwaukee County Sheriff Richard Schmidt announced, what he called, a "transparent transformation" of the jail. He released an assessment of jail practices, conducted by the National Institute of Corrections, or NIC.

Between February 28 and March 2, two NIC representatives reviewed the Milwaukee County Jail’s daily operations. Schmidt ordered the report in light of seven deaths in the jail over a two-year period. 

The report highlighted a variety of areas - such as staffing concerns, inmate grievances, and the jail’s policies and procedures. The final report was completed last week.

“Their analysis was very thorough, beyond what I had anticipated and they did a phenomenal job of getting through this entire operation and how it functions," Schmidt said. "The NIC does not pull punches, they document those areas needing correction and they also document what’s working from an excellent standpoint."

After the review, the NIC representatives had a total of 17 recommendations – fifteen of them were completed before the final report came out.

Schmidt said the findings support a previous statement he made, that NIC would no longer find any major issues with the jail that impacted the well-being of inmates.

He said that inmate wellness is his primary focus and emphasized that assuring all inmates are taken care of when they enter the facility is the priority, especially if inmates come in needing medical attention.

“The jail has approximately 900 inmates here today. The staggering statistic is that 30 percent of all those inmates have serious mental health conditions. Another 30 percent have serious medical conditions. That means out of 900 inmates here today, over 300 have serious medical issues, over 300 have serious mental health issues. This is a very fragile population that deserves the best care possible," Schmidt said.

Thursday, Schmidt also gave media and officials a tour of the facilities. One of the stops was the special mental health unit, an area media had never been given access to before.

Credit Teran Powell
An inmate cell in the mental health unit.

While there, Schmidt addressed previous reports of inmate deaths that occurred in the facility – like the death of Terrill Thomas who died of dehydration after jail staff shut off his water supply.

Schmidt called it one of the most disturbing parts of what took place at the facility – resulting in criminal charges against three staffers.

He said he’s doing everything possible to make sure nothing like that happens again, and wants people to know that when their loved ones are in the jail that they’re being taken care of.

Theo Lipscomb, chairman of the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors, said he understands why focusing on inmate wellness was at the forefront of the event. He was one of the city officials along for the tour.

“I think the recent history would lead people to be concerned about what has been the medical and mental health treatment here," Lipscomb said. "Obviously as a county board member, I’ve been concerned about that. I was opposed to us hiring Armor Correctional in the first place. It’s not something you want to be proved right on. So, I am disappointed obviously in what has happened in recent years, I’m hoping we’ve gotten to the bottom of that."

Lipscomb said he appreciates that the sheriff is giving the health status of inmates the attention it deserves, in addition to other jail operations.

There are still two NIC recommendations left to fulfill – updating the jail’s policies and procedures and completing a staffing analysis.

However, Schmidt said the facility is expecting to have a 300-person staff by the end of this year.

Teran is WUWM's race & ethnicity reporter.
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