EX-Prisoners Organizing
Press Release

EXPO Launches Campaign to Close Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility (MSDF)

Leaders of the #CloseMSDF Campaign Call on Governor Walker to Save Lives and Save Money by Closing MSDF

By - Jun 29th, 2017 08:55 pm
Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Milwaukee, WI – Hundreds of faith leaders, community advocates, and formerly incarcerated people gathered today at Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC) and then marched to the Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility (MSDF) to launch a campaign led by EX-Prisoners Organizing (EXPO) to close the prison. People incarcerated at MSDF are locked in their cells for 22 hours a day without access to outdoor recreation, denied in-person visits, and suffer routine abuses including extreme heat and poor ventilation, causing severe medical problems and even death. Many people subjected to these deplorable conditions have not been charged with new crimes but are at MSDF due to crimeless revocation – the practice of re-incarcerating people on probation, parole, and extended supervision for minor rule violations – or probation, parole, or extended supervision holds.

James Wilborn, who was an EXPO leader, died in MSDF during the summer of 2015. The extreme heat inside the facility was a factor in his death, as was his inability to obtain medications that he needed. With the launch of the campaign to close MSDF, EXPO called on Governor Walker to face the fact that crimeless revocation is a failed policy, a waste of money, and an embarrassment to Wisconsin.

The event included a panel discussion featuring EXPO members who have been incarcerated at MSDF, a premiere of a documentary by independent filmmaker Tim Coursen, remarks from Janos Marton of the New York City #CLOSErikers Campaign, and a prayer vigil outside MSDF to honor those who have died in captivity there.

“During my stay in MSDF back in the early 2000s, I witnessed suicidal activity and a death due to faulty ventilation and lack of air conditioning in areas inmates were housed,” said EXPO of Wisconsin Board Member William Harrell. “The building wasn’t even one year old and had a mold problem in inmate shower areas while housing three people in cells designed for one person. This is inhumane treatment which has not been addressed in the nearly 20 year existence of the facility! This is cruel & unusual punishment, period!”

MSDF was built in 2001 as a temporary detention facility for people on parole, probation, and extended supervision who have allegedly committed violations in their rules of supervision. In the last 16 years, thousands of individuals, convicted of no new crime, have been re-incarcerated at MSDF—over sixty percent of them black men. This practice of “crimeless revocations” exacerbates racial inequities in Milwaukee and Wisconsin, and the inhumane conditions at MSDF violate basic human rights and defy our notions of justice and freedom.

“WISDOM supports the closing of MSDF because the facility is not suited for the housing nor the care for the citizens that are detained there,” said WISDOM President Rev. Willie Brisco. “The poor ventilation, the lack of adequate medical care for the mentally ill as well as the design that promotes sensory deprivation. We believe in humane treatment of all citizens within the state institution in order to promote safe and healthy communities.”

The #CloseMSDF Campaign aims not only to close this facility, but reimagine how Wisconsin invests in people caught in the criminal justice system. It asserts that MSDF is beyond reform and must be shuttered in order to build the stronger communities that Milwaukee and Wisconsin deserve. EXPO of Wisconsin Board Member Charles Hampton said, “conditions at Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility (MSDF) are out of step with Wisconsin values. Not only have conditions at the prison been deplorable for years, but the very notion of locking up people struggling with parole and mental health issues is at odds with common sense approaches to justice.”

The #CloseMSDF campaign has been receiving support from JustLeadershipUSA in launching the campaign. JustLeadershipUSA is a national organization dedicated to cutting the US correctional population in half by 2030. It leads the #CLOSErikers campaign in New York City which successfully pushed Mayor de Blasio to commit to shuttering the notorious jail complex.

“The #CloseMSDF campaign is one that focuses on a local prison in Milwaukee, but has national implications,” said Khalil Cumberbatch, Manager of Trainings at JustLeadershipUSA. “As a country we are becoming more attuned to the factors that lead to our over-reliance on incarceration, the horrific conditions that exist in our jails and prisons, and the barriers that follow people after they are released, and we have people who have been through these experiences to thank for this new awareness. Now it is time to follow the lead of formerly incarcerated people in changing our failed criminal justice system and ensuring that it is transformed to align with our values of fairness and compassion. As an organization founded on the principle that those closest to the problem are closest to the solution, JustLeadershipUSA is proud to build on the success of our #CLOSErikers campaign and support EX-Prisoners Organizing (EXPO) in launching their #CloseMSDF campaign.”

About EX-Prisoners Organizing (EXPO):

EXPO (EX-Prisoners Organizing) works to end mass incarceration, eliminate all forms of structural discrimination against formerly incarcerated people, and restore formerly incarcerated people to full participation in the life of our communities. EXPO emerged in 2014 when formerly incarcerated people from around Wisconsin began to gather to discuss what it would look like to have our own statewide organization. Previously imprisoned women and men lead EXPO. Our members provide support to each other and organize to transform Wisconsin’s unjust penal system. We receive support from family members of currently and formerly incarcerated people and allies who have not experienced incarceration. EXPO has active chapters in Milwaukee, Madison, Eau Claire, Green Bay, Superior, and the Fox Cities. We are developing chapters in Racine, Kenosha, Beloit, Waukesha County, and Wausau. EXPO is a project of WISDOM, a statewide organization that links faith communities to work for justice.


WISDOM is a statewide network of faith communities that works to promote the common good by building diverse communities and encouraging broad participation in the democratic process.  WISDOM is a grassroots organization, comprised mostly of religious congregations of many denominations, from about 160 congregations, of 19 different religious traditions.  Besides criminal justice reform, WISDOM and its local organizations promote Immigrant Rights, Economic Justice, Health Care availability, Public Transportation, Workforce Housing, and more.

UBLAC (Uplifting Black Liberation and Communities) provided the following statement in support the #CloseMSDF Campaign. “UBLAC supports EXPO’s campaign to close the Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility. The conditions in MSDF are inhumane and unjust. It is time to move those resources to invest in people by providing proven community based options such as treatment for drug addiction, mental health counseling and real solutions to poverty. UBLAC works to educate Black communities with resources and opportunities that will help provide sustainable environments free from oppressive systems like MSDF.”

Ben Turk of IWOC (Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee) said “for IWOC, shutting down MSDF is just the start. The entire Wisconsin DOC, Milwaukee Police Department and American criminal legal system are shot through with racially targeted violence, terror and control. We’re here to confront and do away with the whole damn system in order to liberate the working class.”

Black & Pink Milwaukee provided the following statement in supports of the #CloseMSDF Campaign. “In a state that incarcerates Black and Native men* at the highest rates in the country, and in a city that prioritizes policing over investment in communities of color, the #CloseMSDF campaign is an urgent and vital project. Black & Pink Milwaukee is grateful for the opportunity to support Ex-Prisoners Organizing coalitional efforts to shut down Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility and all efforts that erode the vastness of the prison industrial complex. We look forward to the space #CloseMSDF has the potential to open for imagining new, bold forms of accountability and relating to each other beyond detention walls in Milwaukee.

*Black & Pink Milwaukee notes that one of the many violences of the prison system is the erasure of the identities of incarcerated people who are transgender, gender non-conforming, or intersex. This erasure is reflected in officially reported statistics.”

One thought on “EXPO Launches Campaign to Close Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility (MSDF)”

  1. Jose Hernandez says:

    WISDOM and ExPO as you move forward in your efforts to close MSDF has anyone considered the facilities use in the future?
    This facility would be a great resource for Milwaukee County as a Huber work release center. As many of you know Milwaukee County once operated the Community Correctional Center across the street and it has since been closed. The effect of this closure is Huber being moved to the Franklin facility that does not have transportation to/from the city, the HOC has advocated for a bus route but continues to be denied.

    This situation is oppressive to incarcerated persons as hundreds of inmates are being sentenced with Huber privileges and only a small portion of them have self transportation to get to work. We could significantly increase the number of employed, school, treatment and elder care individuals if there were access to transportation.
    I could go on and on about the benefits and better use of MSDF. Perhaps rather than closing it consider repurposing the building to focus on restoration, rehabilitation and reentry services to offenders.

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