Prison rally

About 60 protesters from social justice organization WISDOM and other church activist groups around the state protested a $5 million increase in funding for the state Department of Corrections Wednesday.

Groups striving to end high incarceration rates, particularly among communities of color, gathered on the Capitol steps Wednesday to protest a $5 million increase in funding for the Department of Corrections passed by the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee last week.

The department operates 36 adult correctional facilities and is projected to house an average daily male population of 21,151 in the coming year and 21,484 in 2016-2017, according to the paper that went before Joint Finance.

The department only had current operating capacity for a male population of 20,916, however, so the committee voted to up the funding by almost $5 million for the extra 568 male inmates it projects by 2016.

Social justice organization WISDOM and church activists from around the state argued Wednesday that the state should be decreasing the prison population instead of funding more beds.

Rev. Joseph Ellwanger said at Wednesday’s press conference that some may call the funding “chump change” or say it’s not a big deal compared with the department’s overall budget of more than $1 billion.

“But it is a big deal,” he said, calling on legislators to find ways to reduce the prison population instead of increasing it.

They protested the estimated 568-person population increase and argued if that funding was directed toward diversion and treatment programs or community investment, the department could decrease the inmate population over the next two years instead of increasing it.

“We all know the majority of those people are going to be people of color,” said Rev. Willie Brisco, president of Milwaukee Inner-city Congregations Allied for Hope, or MICAH.

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The group of about 60 protesters held signs reading “Build the people, not the prisons,” “Education not Revocation” and “NO prison expansion.” A few members of Madison's Young, Gifted and Black Coalition joined the protest, unfurling their "Black Lives Matter" banner.

Young, Gifted and Black has been pushing Dane County to invest in alternatives to incarceration and black communities instead of a new jail, working with County Board supervisors to pass a resolution this month to that end. Work groups exploring mental health, length of stay and alternatives to incarceration are slated to get up and running this month.

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