Religious Network Hopes to Reduce WI Prison Population by Half

By: Liz Hayes Email
By: Liz Hayes Email

A group of religious leaders and members of their congregations from across the state says Wisconsin's criminal justice system is an expensive failure and it needs to change.

WISDOM hopes to reduce the state's prison population by half by the year 2015. There are approximately 22,000 prisoners in Wisconsin. They've launched an awareness effort called 11 X 15 Campaign.

Members met at the Marathon County Courthouse and Jail Tuesday morning for a press conference. They call the current state prison system ineffective, expensive, and unfair.

They want prison dollars shifted to treatment for those with mental illness and substance abuse issues. The Department of Corrections budget for 2012 is $1.2 billion.

"It's time for Wisconsin to wake up from the ignorance and fear that moves us to punish the very people we should be extending a helping hand to," said Fr. Steve Brice of St. Anne's Catholic Church in Wausau.

Brice says the group isn't referring to violent criminals, but those who have alcohol and drug addictions or mental illness and haven't gotten the treatment they need.

WISDOM calls for alternatives to incarceration, like Marathon County's OWI Court, which requires a lot of time, effort and accountability to those who are accepted into the program.

"The OWI program has given me my life and myself back," said Donna Brown, who will graduate from the program in June. "They have given me the discipline and the structure to take a good hard look at myself."

Brown is an alcoholic and an addict. She has been charged with 5th offense OWI and was facing two years in prison when she was accepted into the program. She's held accountable by going to treatment, AA meetings, NA meetings and meeting with probation agents every week.

Today, she is sober.

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