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WUWM's Teran Powell reports on race and ethnicity in southeastern Wisconsin.

Milwaukee Coalition Calls For Closure Of Downtown State Prison

The #CLOSEmsdf Coalition is calling for the closure of the Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility (MSDF) downtown.

Members of the campaign say the Wisconsin Department of Corrections facility is violating the human rights of those being held there and is unfairly incarcerating people for crimeless violations of supervision.

A small crowd of community organizers and supporters of the coalition picketed the Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility on the corner of 10th and State streets Thursday for what they called a day of visibility. Visibility for what they say are terrible conditions for those incarcerated at the state Department of Corrections facility.

It was built in 2001 to imprison those who violated their parole or probation.

Credit Teran Powell
Teran Powell
Alan Schultz (left) talks to a community member about the #CLOSEmsdf campaign.

Former MSDF inmate Alan Schultz says the problem is that people are being sent back there for crimeless violations and not getting the help they need.

He points out that some court rules actually set people up for failure. For example, Schultz said there's a rule along the lines of, “You must appear for all scheduled appointments and unscheduled appointments.”

"So how are you supposed to attend a meeting that you might not know about that was unscheduled, and they can use that as grounds to put you in here,” Schultz said.

He attended the gathering representing two groups: The Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee and Ex Incarcerated People Organizing, or EXPO.

The picket was held the same day the Wisconsin State Fair. That way, Schultz said, people traveling through the city could see what was happening. The facility is right across the street from the county jail and visible from I-43.

Schultz said the windows on the outside of the facilitiy don't allow people inside to see out.

“Everybody that’s in here gets no sunlight whatsoever. Then you got people that are getting tripled bunked in the cells here. So they’ve been putting three people in single occupancy cells. And I’ve also watched them disregard people for mental health concerns,” Schultz said.

Sixty-two percent of inmates in the facility have some sort of mental health diagnosis, according to Wisconsin Department of Corrections data. Nearly two-thirds of the inmates are African American.

That’s something Shannon Frye, another #CLOSEmsdf supporter, said people need to be concerned about.

“Milwaukee locks up more black people, but particularly black men, than any other place on the planet, and when you think about that in proportion to the number of black people in this state and even in Milwaukee, that’s ridiculous,” said Frye.

Credit Teran Powell
Teran Powell
Caliph Muab-el speaks to the crowd about how he’s been either on parole or probation in Wisconsin for 24 years.

Caliph Muab-el was once one of them. Since he was 12, he’s been either on parole or probation in Wisconsin – he’s now 36. Muab-el told some of his story to the crowd.

Thursday’s event was the beginning of efforts in a number of cities to call attention to issues in prisons. Later this month, inmates nationwide plan to protest, demanding that a number of concerns are met, including access to rehabilitation.

We contacted the state department of corrections for comment on this story but have not yet received a response.

Support for Race & Ethnicity reporting is provided by the Dohmen Company.

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Teran is WUWM's race & ethnicity reporter.