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Group Pushes for Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility Closure

Keith Schubert
At an event held at MATC, EXPO calls for the state to close the Milwukee Seccure Detention Facility.

Several people who have served time at the Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility are pushing the state to close it. Members of the Wisconsin branch of EXPO, or Ex-Prisoners Organizing,  issued their call at a meeting Thursday at MATC. The organization's president, Mark Rice, says the Milwaukee facility is unfit, plus it mainly houses people who are not there for committing a crime.

“No one should be forced to live in inhumane conditions. The conditions in the MSDF (Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility) are cruel and unusual," he says. "Seventeen people have died in MSDF since it opened in 2001. Medical or psychiatric conditions were left untreated or were improperly monitored."

Rice says:

People there are locked down over 20 hours per day. People can never see outside or go outside. MSDF is the only prison in Wisconsin that does not give people access to sunlight or outdoor recreation. It’s very hot in the summer, it can get well over 100 degrees, and there is no air conditioning there. There is no opportunity to have in person visits. When people first come in, people often have to sleep on the floor because of overcrowding in the institution.
When I was there, DOC forced me to sleep on the floor for several weeks before I had the opportunity to get in a regular cell, so they have three people often in a cell that’s designed to hold one person. They’ll have one bunk; two people on a bunk and then one person will be sleeping on the floor in what they call a boat, right next to the toilet, and there is very little room to move, so people are just stuck there, so tensions can get really high. Many people there have disabling mental or physical conditions. Many people there have addiction problems. These are mental health issues; these are public health issues that cannot be solved with incarceration.

The majority of people at MSDF have not been charged with new heinous crimes, he says. "The vast majority of people there, at MSDF, are only there because of violating minor rules of probation, parole or extended supervision, and WISDOM and EXPO have been working to end the practice of crime-less revocations for years. And, a lot of people are just there for holds as well, just for probation, parole or extended supervision holds. Sometimes it’s just for allegations, sometime it’s for infractions like unauthorized computer or cell phone use, crossing county lines or missing appointments."

READ: Wisconsin Legislation Could Lead to More Crime-less Revocations

In response, Wisconsin Department of Corrections says:

DOC is committed to providing a safe and secure environment for all staff and inmates in DOC custody. The Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility is unique in that many inmates are confined on short-term holds, which means they are still on active community supervision. This is important to public safety because it allows us to take offenders off the street who are accused of violating their conditions of supervision, which could include allegations of criminal behavior.

Rice argues that the money being spent on MSDF could instead be used to build "safer, stronger and healthier communities."

“Milwaukee County already has a huge and expansive county facility," he says. "There is already far too much space and capacity in the county system. There is a lot of unnecessary incarceration in the county system, so there is no need to have a separate high-rise prison."

Rice points to programs that he says are more effective, such as community-based responses and the state's Treatment Alternatives and Diversions Program. Programs that, he says, "WISDOM has been advocating for the expansion of, for many years."

LaToya was a reporter with WUWM from 2006 to 2021.
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