Community group hopes to slash number of state prison inmates

MILWAUKEE -- More than 22,000 people in Wisconsin spend their days in the state prison system. But one organization has set a goal to cut that number in half in the next three years.

Organizers for Wisdom, a congregation-based community organization, gathered Monday morning to kick off their 11x15 campaign.

"The plan is to reduce Wisconsin's prison population to 11,000 inmates by 2015," Mandela Barnes with MICAH said. MICAH stands for Milwaukee Inner City Congregations Allied for Hope.

Wisdom hopes to accomplish this goal by expanding diversion programs. This means, instead of being locked up, offenders would be sent to rehabilitation programs.

"We're putting people in jail who have underlying issues and these underlying issues don't get treated, so when they are released from prison without those issues being treated, they're most likely going to re-offend and re-commit and go back into the prison system," Barnes said.

Organizers with Wisdom say the state spends more than $1 billion on corrections each year. They believe re-allocating some of that money to treatment programs can save money in the long run.

Former inmate William Harrell says the current programs in place were not enough for him. "I didn't have enough time to do the programs. They would ship me from different location to location so it would interrupt the process," Harrell said.

Wisdom officials plan to voice their message across the state, with the hopes of giving people a second chance. "Everybody has the ability to change and be redeemed," Wisdom official Joseph Ellwanger said.