A Letter from the Staff of Justice Initiatives Institute

Justice Initiatives Institute (JII), a private 501(c)3 non-profit was founded in November of 2012 to promote and support criminal justice reform based on evidence informed planning. JII provides a place for research and analysis of current criminal justice processes, policies and practices, staffed by professionals with a broad knowledge, experience and training in the field of criminal justice and evidenced based decision making. We are organized for the purpose of providing knowledge and technical assistance for interested, reform orientated criminal justice stakeholders in communities throughout the State of Wisconsin and beyond.

JII is the policy partner of JusticePoint, Inc. (JPI), the major provider of a full array of high quality, evidence based pretrial services for Milwaukee County’s Circuit Courts. While JPI concentrates on the development and delivery of direct services through its pretrial service programming, JII seeks policy reforms, based on practices and research that are cost effective and promote public safety. Both organizations bring to the partnership a focused mission based on a keen understanding of the intersection of criminal justice issues with the particular needs of the most impoverished, marginalized populations in Wisconsin. JII’s vision is that local jurisdictions throughout Wisconsin will be able to establish the data capability, knowledge base and decision making framework to implement practices that show the greatest promise for addressing each jurisdiction’s unique needs. This vision includes promoting and expanding the use of pretrial service and diversion programs; utilization of risk and needs assessment at the earliest possible point in the criminal justice process; improved access to community-based resources like treatment for addictions and mental health programs that will mitigate arrest behaviors.

The motivation for establishing JII was fueled by recent disturbing trends in Wisconsin and throughout the nation for stakeholders to increase their reliance on the criminal justice system to address a whole range of social and economic problems. As the ill-conceived “War on Drugs” and “War on Crime” generated an expansion of severely hardened criminal codes across America, prison and jail populations exploded. The private prison industrial complex emerged, commercial bail bonding flourished supplying billions of dollars into affiliated insurance companies and with it, an overwhelming sense of injustice and disparity descended over our central cities. Yet, poll after poll reveals a clear majority of American citizens favor restorative alternatives to incarcerations including supervision and treatment for lower risk individuals,  especially for those with a mental illness and/or addictions. 

In 2008, there were approximately 23,000 people in state prisons in Wisconsin. About one-third of the prison population struggles with mental illness, and estimates are that as many as 80% have serious substance abuse issues. The vast majority of these are people with low incomes or no incomes at all. 47% are African-American – in a state where the overall African-American population is less than 6%. The Council of State Government Justice Center recently concluded that one of the main reasons for Wisconsin’s high rate of incarceration is due to high rates of probation failure resulting in higher rates of revocations and return to prison for a growing number of released inmates.

Between 1999 and 2009, the Wisconsin Department of Correction’s budget increased 71%, from $700 million to $1.2 billion and is projected to consume and additional $2.5 billion by 2019, for new construction and operating costs associated with reducing overcrowding and accommodating growth in the prison population.

The challenge for JII will be to organize stakeholders to focus their efforts on policy and practice shifts that will promote public safety while reducing costs and strengthening communities. A report from the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance and the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute has revealed a growing consensus that “Wisconsin needs to responsibly reduce its reliance on incarceration, reduce recidivism so as to improve public safety, curtail the amount of money taxpayers spend on corrections, and reinvest avoided prison costs in local jurisdictions to support local criminal justice initiatives as well as generate more resources needed for the overall health of the community.”

The staff of JII welcomes the opportunity and looks forward to offering their special skills, knowledge and resources to address these difficult challenges.

Most Sincerely, 
The Staff of Justice Initiatives Institute