Here are some responses to common questions we get when canvassing, picketing or talking about the campaign. If you have questions we don’t address, information to add, or other suggestions, please contact us.

Questions:

Why close MSDF?
Why was MSDF built in the first place?
What purpose does MSDF serve?
What are conditions like inside MSDF?
How will closing MSDF make Milwaukee and Wisconsin safer?
What is the alternative way to deal with people put in MSDF?
What is an alternative thing to do with the building?
What is the alternative job for Correctional Officers and staff?

Why close MSDF?

Because it is racist and morally repugnant. MSDF rips people away from community supports and opportunities and traumatizes them in abysmal conditions. Sixty-six percent of people held in MSDF identify as Black, compared with 7% of people in Wisconsin. Milwaukee communities, such as zip code 53206 have the highest incarceration rates in the world. This is largely due to crimeless revocations. MSDF plays a key role in these shameful and disgraceful facts. Milwaukee is known nationwide as one of the most segregated cities, this facility continues to perpetuate this sad and unjust reality.
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Why was MSDF built in the first place?

 

To accommodate Milwaukee’s white supremacist and classist practice of exceptionally high crimeless revocation rates.

In 2001 the Milwaukee County Sheriff successfully sued WI Dept of Corrections for revoking people so often that it caused dangerous overcrowding of the County Jail and House of Corrections. At that point, Wisconsin was faced with a decision: put a check on the parole and probation officers to reduce crimeless revocations, or build a new facility. They chose to not only build a new prison, but to build this particularly brutal and inhumane one, which quickly also became overcrowded.

Building MSDF cost $63 million, maintaining it costs $40 million per year (over $100 per prisoner per day). Some of this money comes from Alternative to Revocation (ATR) program funding, even though confinement at MSDF creates a hopelessly inadequate environment for programming.
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What purpose does MSDF serve?

To oppress and control targeted communities by circulating harm in them. MSDF allows parole and probation officers to take people away from their homes, families, jobs and opportunities on a whim. Inside the building they are abused, neglected and tortured. People leaving MSDF are either sent to prisons upstate for further harm, or back to their communities, where, deprived of opportunities, and recovering from the trauma of confinement, they are more likely to harm others. This is a cycle of trauma that negatively impacts the entire Milwaukee community, but, like all law enforcement practices, it tends to disproportionately impact certain communities: people of color, low income and working class people, and the LGBTQ community.

MSDF particularly  maintains a racial caste system in Milwaukee, where Black people’s survival and participation in the community must overcome the hurdles of saturation policing, the constant threat of going to MSDF, and the re-circulating trauma of neighbors churned through the system. This both deters and constricts Black participation in public and political life. In this way, MSDF helps keep white people and white supremacist priorities centered in this city and state.
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What are conditions like inside MSDF?

MSDF is a building within a building. There is no direct sunlight, no air conditioning, and no outdoor recreation. The current operating capacity is 1,040, but it was designed to closer to 400 people. To accomodate overcrowding, they started putting two or three people in cells designed for one. Prisoners at MSDF spend more than 20 hours a day (some up to 23) in their cells. In triple-bunked cells, one person has to sleep on the floor beside the toilet in a pull out “boat” stored under the bunk bed. Disease runs rampant and healthcare–especially mental health treatment–is totally inadequate. At least 17 people have died inside MSDF since it was built in 2001.

There is only minimal drug and alcohol treatment for a fraction (240) of the prisoners, and no in-person visits. Family contact is widely known to be the best means to avoid recidivism, but MSDF requires visitors to come through security just to talk with their loved ones through often malfunctioning video monitors. This facility is not designed to integrate people into society or support their transformation, but to tear them out of community and circulate them through systems of harm, neglect and abuse.
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How will closing MSDF make Milwaukee and Wisconsin safer?

Locking people in prison, especially a prison like MSDF is itself an act of life-threatening violence. Police and parole / probation officers target working class communities and communities of color with this structural violence, perpetually tearing them apart. People have lost their jobs, children, cars, and houses because they got sent to MSDF to await a revocation hearing, often for an utterly petty and non-violent revocation. Those who survive incarceration at MSDF come out with greater obstacles to getting their life on track, including post-traumatic stress and spotty employment histories. People without other opportunities are most likely to resort to desperate measures, including harming their neighbors. By attacking and abusing some community members and undermining their efforts to work, support their families, and participate in community life, MSDF and the revocations practices that fill it creates a structure of violence and harm that cycles through the whole community.

Taxpayers spend $40 million on MSDF every year, that’s over $100 per captive per day. According to this Vera Institute report, it costs $38,644 to incarcerate a person for one year in Wisconsin. This is more than the cost of one year of tuition at Princeton. If that money was instead invested in social support and true economic opportunities for neglected communities, addiction, crime and interpersonal harm would decline sharply. Instead, Wisconsin’s government keeps cutting spending on social services and education while trying to increase prison spending.
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What is an alternative way to deal with people put in MSDF?

Stop revoking people without just reasons or new crimes. Between July of 2016 and June of 2017 Wisconsin cycled 5,423 people through MSDF, many on crimeless revocations. If the criminal legal system wasn’t scooping all these people up on petty violations we would have no need for a skyrise prison like MSDF in Milwaukee. Drug counselling, transformative justice, and direct community support would all cost far less and would at the very least not add to the violence and trauma experienced by communities currently targeted by the DOC.
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What is the alternative thing to do with the building?

Tear it down. MSDF is designed for one purpose and that purpose is racist, destructive to communities and morally repugnant. This building’s particularly inhumane design makes it hard to imagine anyone wanting to hold classes, locate offices, or do anything productive with this large building taking up space in the center of downtown Milwaukee.

The building also stands as a constant reminder of trauma for families who have lost loved ones or personally experienced hardships within its walls. Like confederate statues in the American South, MSDF is Milwaukee’s monument to white supremacy, and the most righteous thing to do with those is take them down.
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What is the alternative for Correctional Officers and staff?

They can get a real job. Funds wasted on MSDF could be re-directed to job opportunities and support for both the people who are held captive within, and for the Correctional Officers holding them. We believe that most COs would rather do work that enriches and benefits their communities than take these jobs based on torture, confinement and abuse.

We believe this because Wisconsin DOC is struggling to find people willing to work for them. The House of Corrections and other facilities are understaffed and Correctional Officers statewide complain about mandatory overtime. Reducing the number CO jobs by closing this facility will actually help solve these issues for the DOC’s employees.
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