Graham Kilmer
MKE County

County Executive, Mayor Meet With Inmates to Discuss Second Chances

Crowley and Johnson were joined by Chief Judge Carl Ashley at Community Reintegration Center.

By - Apr 26th, 2024 05:11 pm

Chief Judge Carl Ashley speaks to men at the Community Reintegration Center. Photo by Graham Kilmer.

Some of Milwaukee’s top elected officials visited the county’s Community Reintegration Center (CRC) Friday to discuss second chances with a group of men who need them.

April is officially Second Chance Month, following a proclamation by President Joe Biden in March. It’s supposed to be an opportunity to consider and promote the importance of giving formerly incarcerated people the opportunity to live a successful life, despite their past.

The message Friday, delivered to a few dozen men in a rec room at the CRC, was not to let the rest of their lives be defined by the life experiences or mistakes that landed them in the county correctional facility.

County Executive David Crowley, Mayor Cavalier Johnson, Chief Judge Carl Ashley and My Way Out Executive Director Ruben Gaona joined a panel discussion with Assistant Superintendent Anthony Dodd on taking accountability for behavior, failure, life after incarceration and self-improvement.

“Reentry is all about second chances, making sure people have an opportunity to be successful upon release,” Superintendent Chantell Jewell said. “And so, really, that’s what we’re all about at the Community Reintegration Center (CRC).”

At the CRC, Second Chance Month has been an occasion to hold a handful of events aimed at encouraging the men there to take advantage of programming and resources that may open up new opportunities upon their release.

The day before elected officials visited the facility, Jewell brought in a handful of credible messengers who had experienced being incarcerated. Some of them had even been incarcerated at the CRC, Jewell said. They spoke about navigating both the criminal justice system and life outside of it.

“I think that’s important,” Jewell said. “But, historically, I don’t think that happened here at this facility because those individuals were not allowed to come back in.”

Meeting the incarcerated men where they are, and giving them examples of success in other men who have similar life experiences, was the theme of both events this week. One of the panelists Friday, Ruben Gaona, spent time in prison and now runs a nonprofit focused on helping people return to society after incarceration, with programs both during and after imprisonment.

Under Crowley, county officials have been attempting to re-orient the mission of the CRC toward a focus on preparing men for release, as opposed to simply holding them in confinement as a form of punishment.

“Part of changing the narrative is changing the culture and changing the culture here was about the name change — Community Reintegration Center — formerly known as the House of Correction,” Crowley said.

Jewell and her team at the CRC have been working to encourage and incentivize the men there to take advantage of programming and educational opportunities, like the occupational skills training program run by Milwaukee Area Technical College that teaches welding.

“It doesn’t do anyone any good to come and do 90 days, 120 days, or six months to a year if there’s not any behavioral change,” Jewell said.

Ashley has become a partner toward that end, working with other judges in the circuit court system to give the men at the CRC the ability to reduce their sentences by participating in programming at the facility.

“Without exception, all the judges agreed that it makes more sense to allow someone who’s here to take advantage of programming that’s going to help you once you leave here to be more successful. It’s a no-brainer,” said Ashley.

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Categories: MKE County

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