Six Wisconsin umbrella religious groups gathered hundreds of people in Madison March 14 to support funding for Treatment Alternatives and Diversions (TAD) instead of jail or prison for nonviolent offenders. Their campaign, called 11 X 15, proposes reducing Wisconsin’s prison population by half (from 22,000 to 11,000) by the end of 2015. This goal can be achieved, they say, by investing $75 million in TAD.
A 2012 Health Impact Assessment showed that the $75 million investment would reduce prison admissions by 3,000/year and county jail admissions by 21,000/year and save taxpayer dollars, because prison costs twice as much as TAD. This investment would also reduce crime, because TAD participants are 20 percent less likely to commit further crimes than those who have been incarcerated. The $75 million TAD investment would keep 1,200 parents out of prison, decreasing demand for foster care and other services. Also, TAD participants were 13 percent more likely to be employed after the program than those who had been incarcerated.
Organizers inspired the crowd of People of Faith United for Justice with testimonials of successful rehabilitation through drug treatment and transitional employment instead of prison. They also provided information on the negative effects of the governor’s proposed reductions to BadgerCare and public transit.
Rev. Bryan Massingale, a theology professor at Marquette University in Milwaukee and a noted authority on social and racial justice., was the keynote speaker at Bethel Lutheran Church, where the 900 gathered before visiting the Capitol. “What unites us and brings us together,” he said, “is a concern for justice for the poor, the vulnerable, and the voiceless.”
“We’re here for five reasons,” Massingale continued.
1. Religion, to be relevant, must be concerned with physical welfare as well as with souls.
2. We are given to each other’s care in a covenant with God. As part of this covenant, it is our responsibility to reintegrate prisoners back into society, not abandon them.
3. “We believe … the victim and the perpetrator of the crime are both human. … Our commitment to the dignity of all demands that we pay special attention to the least among us.”
4. Keep it real. What‘s our alternative? More hardened criminals? More and bigger prisons? Without justice there is no peace. Gated communities and concealed guns only offer a delusion of safety.
5. Justice can and will be accomplished in a fullness of time known only to God. Our core conviction is that God is faithful despite human weakness.
Massingale told of watching Open Housing marchers in Milwaukee with his grandmother when he was only 7. “I stand on their shoulders,” he said. “I carry their promise. I am their hope and their dream. … We don’t know who will be … drawing hope from what we are going to do today.”
Andre Brown works for Project Return in Milwaukee. “We’re looking to give a second chance to those who deserve a second chance,” he declared. “We’re not looking to turn prisoners into the streets … We all want a civilized civilization.”
Brown offered dismaying statistics: There are 36 correctional institutions in Wisconsin, filled to capacity and in fact are beyond capacity by 12,000 today. It costs Wisconsin taxpayers $88/day to keep one person in prison.
Brown also compared Wisconsin to Minnesota. The two have similar demographics, but Minnesota’s DOC budget and its prison population are significantly smaller than Wisconsin‘s. Minnesota is invested in prisoner reentry and rehabilitation; it encourages collaboration between the state, business, and society.
In conclusion, Brown said, “A lot of us just want to prove ourselves. We want a second chance. If Wall Street can get a second chance /// If the banks can get a second chance ….Support this [11 X 15] campaign!”
Michael Gamalauskis traveled from Eau Claire to explain how vital the support of the drug treatment courts was to him. “Because of drug treatment courts, I am a man, a man of faith. I have custody of my daughter. … Alternatives to incarceration work.”
Conor Williams works with the Milwaukee Transitional Jobs Collective, which finds short-term subsidized jobs for ex-prisoners at minimum wage for up to six months. This is real work alongside real workers, not make-work, he said. The cost of the program is $10,000 per person for six months; incarcerating that person would cost $16,456 for six months. Those served by the program have severe barriers to employment, but over half go on to get an unsubsidized job.
John Stedman, also from Eau Claire, helped advise the crowd on what to tell their legislators:
The crowd of 900 rallied on the Capitol steps before proceeding inside to meet with legislators. Religious leader after leader — Muslim, Christian, Unitarian, Jewish — said that Wisconsin needs to act immediately and concretely, that punitive mass incarceration has failed to provide public safety, that we need to move beyond retribution to help those who have offended to rebuild healthy lives. “We’re here,” said the Rev. Richard Shaw of St. Matthew AME Church in Milwaukee, “to restore hope where there is no hope. We know the difference between punishment and healing.”
Rev. Tim Kehl of First Congregational UCC in Madison read some daunting statistics, among them: One in 100 U.S. citizens is incarcerated. The U.S. has 4.5 percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. Wisconsin is 6 percent African American, but 50 percent of Wisconsin’s prisoners are African American. One in 9 Black children has a parent in prison.
The 11 X 15 Campaign is a grassroots effort to reduce Wisconsin’s prison population by 50 percent — 11,000 Wisconsin prisoners instead of 22,000 — by the end of 2015 through the use of Treatment Alternatives and Diversion.
To learn more or to get involved in the 11 X 15 campaign, check with your church; it may well be participating already. Visit the Web sites firstname.lastname@example.org or www.prayforjusticeinwi.org, or call (414) 831-2070. Locally, an organization called MOSES is leading the 11 X 15 Campaign. Meetings are the first Saturday of every month, 10 a.m.-noon at First Congregational UCC, 1609 University Ave., Madison .