Promoting Racial Equity and Social Justice
The rich diversity within our County is one of our greatest strengths. We are committed to building up our diverse communities and ensuring fair and equal opportunities for all people of our County to grow and thrive. A fair justice system that unites our community, rather than dividing it, is one of our greatest priorities.
Our County may be diverse, but many people in Milwaukee County have faced challenges because of a history of segregation. We aim to examine everything we do – from delivering county services to fostering partnerships – through a lens of promoting racial equity.
Office on African American Affairs
Addressing Racial Inequities
Nicole Brookshire was appointed as Director of the newly established, and critically important, Office on African American Affairs in the summer of 2017. Establishing OAAA represents the County’s commitment to racial equity. With an ambitious mission of recognizing and resolving the County’s racial inequities and to help both its citizenry and the southeast Wisconsin region achieve their full potential, OAAA is developing a comprehensive racial equity plan, one with long-term solutions. Director Brookshire and her staff are responsible for planning, managing, and supporting a county- and community-wide collective approach through the development of a common agenda among stakeholders, shared measurement systems, mutually reinforcing activities, and continuous communication.
Over the last year Director Brookshire and her staff have met with numerous community organizations, explored internal and external opportunities to leverage more County resources, and hosted three Visioning Sessions with members of the Milwaukee community. Focused on economic growth, youth re-engagement, and social justice initiatives, the feedback has been used to design the Racial Equity Plan for the County.
In 2018 and 2019 OAAA will lead the organization’s equity initiatives by addressing racial bias in organizational culture and decision-making through the implementation and use of racial equity tools, trainings and evidenced based models. OAAA aims to improve racial equity in: operations, fiscal appropriations, IS systems, policies and programs, legislation, workforce, organizational culture and community engagement.
Finally, OAAA will build strategic alliances with the wider community to drive a collaborative effort across all units of government at the local, regional, state, and federal levels. Director Brookshire recognizes that creating an inclusive Racial Equity Plan must include all elected officials – at every level
HOC Develops Programs to Integrate Former Inmates Back into the Community
Milwaukee County’s House of Corrections is committed to helping inmates transition from confinement back into the community through educational, vocational, and responsibility-building activities. By learning life skills, inmates will improve their chances of finding a satisfying job and leading a satisfying life, while also reducing recidivism and the staggering costs associated with incarceration.
HOC focuses on education by helping inmates earn their GED or high school diploma via programs such as the Franklin Alternative Youth Program, which provides on-campus instruction of high school-level coursework, or the Right Path Program, where inmates are permitted to travel to MATC to take necessary classes.
Numerous job readiness activities help inmates prepare for success by promoting self-esteem, teaching communications skills, and emphasizing accountability and job retention skills. By focusing on ethics, teamwork, and owning past mistakes, hard-to-employ individuals are given a leg up on the path to self-sufficiency. Successful programs include Job Readiness, through which 198 inmates gained full-time employment in 2017, and Fork Lifting, a materials handling certification that graduated 365 inmates in 2017.
The HOC also offers opportunities for inmates to reduce their sentences by providing cleaning services in county parks and at the County Zoo, and summer festivals; offenders earned almost 8,000 days of credit through this program in 2017. Similarly, inmates can reduce their sentences and gain valuable experience by working in the HOC’s print shop, laundry, kitchen, bakery, and recycling centers.
Project Rise: Transforming Milwaukee County's Approach to Youth Justice
The Milwaukee County Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) has spearheaded numerous initiatives to transform Milwaukee County’s approach to youth justice. Project Rise, one of its most significant, matches youthful offenders with a support system to meet their needs, empower them to heal, and help them create meaningful lives in safer neighborhoods.
We recognize that youth who commit crimes are still growing and developing, which is why we treat them like kids, not hardened criminals. We provide integrative solutions that address the root causes of their behavior, knowing that when we focus on what happened to a youth versus what they have done, we can better address their behavior. We teach them life skills, provide school support, job coaching, financial advice and more to set them up for success, prevent recidivism and encourage positive futures. We provide youth with access to resources that empower them to make better choices and be their best selves, and to experience safe, healthy and meaningful lives by providing supervision and support in pursuing a pro-social future.
DYFS has championed the expansion of community-based alternatives and implementation of rehabilitation-focused programs. One of DYFS’ principal goals is to reduce the number of kids in the youth justice system. DYFS approaches this priority in a multi-faceted manner, through increased collaboration among Milwaukee County and state of Wisconsin leadership; efforts to address racial and socioeconomic disparities in Milwaukee County; and a data-driven system to evaluate each youth offender and align sentencing, programs, and services to each individual’s needs.
Bringing an End to Chronic Homelessness
Milwaukee County’s Housing Division established an ambitious goal in 2015: end chronic homelessness county-wide before the end of 2018. Impressively, they expect to announce success later this year and be the only major county in the nation to do so.
Like many large urban areas, Milwaukee has had a contingent of long-term, chronically homeless individuals living along underpasses and in scattered sites across the county. Milwaukee County evolved its approach to supporting these individuals by recognizing housing as healthcare rather than a “reward” for enrolling in drug treatment and other programs. Using this model, the County not only can provide individuals with the dignity of housing, but also show a considerable savings by the decrease in emergency service usage.
The success of the initiative has been built upon the Housing First model that provides permanent housing as the first step in supporting the homeless, The County has worked with public and private partners to dramatically increase the supply of permanent housing and expects to house all chronically homeless individuals by year end. "We have been able to show that by using the Housing First model and focusing on permanent housing, large communities can made substantial progress on homelessness,” said Jim Mathy, director of the Housing Division. “The program’s effectiveness can be measured by the fact that its retention rate is 97 percent and all participants have accepted voluntary services.”
Creating Healthy Communities
Milwaukee County’s Behavioral Health Division (BHD) is working to become a national best practice leader in the delivery of behavioral health care. One approach has been actively collaborating with other organizations to ensure individuals with mental health needs are connected to high-quality behavioral health care closer to home rather than in institutionalized settings.
BHD has created several partnerships to make this care possible for our community. For example, as part of the MacArthur Safety and Justice Challenge, a national effort to tackle issues in jails related to overcrowding and mental health needs, BHD worked with the County’s judicial system to expand the Crisis Assessment Response Team (CART) program. CART teams are composed of a BHD clinician paired with a police officer who respond to calls related to behavioral health crises and make decisions on the spot about the best immediate care for each individual. This has resulted in a dramatic reduction in people being referred to the justice system; In 2017, nearly 90 percent of the 600 individuals encountered by the CART team were connected to community-based resources versus jail or hospitalization.
“We are turning our focus to community-based prevention, treatment, and recovery programs to provide these valuable resources to those in need,” says Mike Lappen, administrator for BHD. "We started the transition from institutional care to community-based care in 2015 when we closed our long-term care units. Now, as we transition our acute inpatient hospital to another provider, we are committed to connecting individuals to care that is person-centered, trauma-informed, culturally-intelligent and close to home. This approach is continually demonstrating better outcomes for those we serve.”
“At BHD, we have a relentless passion for better, and together, we are transforming behavioral health care," says Lappen.