Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice
Media advisory
For immediate release
Contacts: Rev. Jerry Hancock, 608-658-6630
        Rev. Jerome Dillard, 608-270-9711
        Carol Rubin, 608-244-3804
www.prayforjusticeinwi.org

New Campaign Challenges Over-Incarceration in Wisconsin
Faith communities lead "11x15," a call to halve Wisconsin's prison population by 2015, with campaign launches in eight communities around the state

Madison campaign kick-off:  Monday, February 20
     - 11 a.m. educational forum at Grace Episcopal Church (116 W. Washington Ave)

     - 12 p.m. press event at the state Capitol, 1st floor, North wing


Alarmed by the moral, human, societal and financial costs of over-incarceration, Wisconsin's faith and social justice communities are coming together to demand change.

On February 20 and 21, faith leaders will challenge our state to reduce its prison population by half -- to around 11,000 people -- by 2015.  This "11x15" campaign will make clear the crisis of over-incarceration, and begin to explore the alternatives that will make our communities healthier and safer.

The Madison 11x15 press event on February 20 will include the Reverend Scott Anderson, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Council of Churches; Bishop Bruce Burnside, leader of the state's South-Central Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Pastor Alex Gee of the Fountain of Life Church; Reverend Jerry Hancock of the First Congregational United Church of Christ, who previously worked in the criminal justice system; Sister Esther Heffernan, who authored groundbreaking research on prisons and has served on county task forces addressing racial discrimination in the prison system; and Reverend Jerome Dillard, the President of Voices Beyond Bars and Director of Re-entry and Advocacy Services with Nehemiah Community Development Corporation.

The Madison 11x15 campaign is organized by MOSES, the Madison affiliate of the WISDOM network of 125 Wisconsin congregations of all denominations.  The campaign is supported by the Wisconsin Council of Churches, Voices Beyond Bars, Prison Ministry Project, Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice, Madison-area Urban Ministry, Nehemiah Community Development Corporation, and the Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice.

Following the 11x15 kick-off events in Madison, Milwaukee, Green Bay, Racine, Wausau, Manitowoc, La Crosse and Chippewa Falls, the campaign will focus on grassroots education and outreach.  Campaign partners will train volunteers to give presentations about over-incarceration to groups around the state, with a goal of recruiting 4,000 active supporters.  WISDOM is also working with academic, community and public health partners to quantify the positive impact of expanding treatment-based alternatives to incarceration for non-violent offenders with underlying addiction or mental illness issues.

Background

Wisconsin is one of the worst states for over-incarceration, especially of people of color.  Though only six percent of state residents are African-American, more than half of Wisconsin's prison population is African-American.

Our prison population per capita is more than double that of Minnesota's, even though the two states have similar demographics overall.  Wisconsin's corrections budget is also more than twice that of Minnesota's.  Yet the $1.3 billion that Wisconsin spent on its prison system in 2011 hasn't reduced crimes rates here, relative to Minnesota.

On the positive side, there are already many successful programs in Wisconsin that provide alternatives to incarceration.  These include drug treatment courts, day reporting centers and special programs for offenders with mental illness problems.  Unfortunately, these effective programs barely survive on minimal budgets and volunteered time from judges – even as the prison budget has grown from $200 million to $1.3 billion since 1990.  Simply investing more in alternatives to incarceration would save money overall while healing our communities.

The outrageous growth of the Wisconsin prison system happened under the leadership of both major political parties.  In other states, both Democrats and Republicans have led meaningful prison reform efforts.  People of faith and good will call on members of both political parties to recognize that over-incarceration is not a partisan issue; it is a matter of morality, common sense, fairness and fiscal responsibility.

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