Contact: Marilyn Walczak
205 W. Highland Ave. #201 
Milwaukee, WI 53203 

Milwaukee, WI, April 17, 2015:  Justice Initiatives Institute (JII), a Milwaukee-based nonprofit agency, in collaboration with the Employment and Training Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Continuing Education, completed a review of unpaid municipal fines that resulted in jail time for residents of the City of Milwaukee. The data review covered 5 years, 2008-2013 and only examined cases that had failures to appear in court and failures to pay fines. 

Some of the key findings in the JII report indicate that from 2008-2013:

  • The County jail costs to taxpayers were $10.2 million to detain individuals who failed to pay $5.7 million to the City of Milwaukee for municipal tickets.
  • Some individuals detained for failure to pay City of Milwaukee citations are homeless, have a mental illness, or have a substance abuse problem. They received tickets for spitting in public places, littering, removal of contents from a waste container, and trespassing in a building. 
  • The study sample contained 13,602 traffic cases that resulted in jail time in the City of Milwaukee. 89% of these cases were people charged with driving while under suspension but 82% of the underlying suspensions were for failure to pay forfeitures and not for unsafe driving. 
  • 3,388 marijuana cases had a total of $1.2 million in judgment amounts but only $179,958 was actually paid. In only 36 instances is Community Service as an alternative sanction utilized for these cases.
  • African American males made up 80% of men jailed for failure to appear and pay municipal citations in the City of Milwaukee, and were heavily concentrated between ages 20-39. African American women showed similar demographics making up 79% of women jailed, and were ages 20-39 years. 
  • The 6 ZIP codes with the highest amount of municipal arrests also had the highest percentage of individuals living below 100% of the official poverty line. 

Efforts by jurisdictions to use financial sanctions for defendants who may be homeless, unemployed, or simply too poor to pay have been documented recently by the New York Times, NPR and the ACLU.  

The full report can be viewed at the Justice Initiatives Institute web site: