Milwaukee County, WI

Change in Jail Population 18%

Action Areas Courts Data Analysis Diversion Mental Health Reentry

Last Updated


In 2015, Milwaukee County had 33,500 jail bookings per year. Most county jail bookings were tied to misdemeanors arrests. People with mental health issues and substance use disorders also cycled through the justice system.

Both community members and system personnel were exposed to trauma in the justice system. This was particularly true of people of color, who were and continue to be disproportionately involved in the justice system. In 2015, Black and Hispanic people made up less than half (41%) of the population of Milwaukee County and yet comprised almost 70% of the local jail population.


Milwaukee County advanced a number of strategies to rethink and redesign its criminal justice system so that it is more fair, just, and equitable for all.



A new, countywide Crisis Assessment Response Team helped people across the county get help while in a mental health crisis, rather than being jailed. A new mental health diversion program placed a behavioral health liaison in the jail to conduct assessments and connect people to community resources. Peer support specialists, people with lived experience with the justice and behavioral health systems, were trained on helping people manage their mental health conditions.



An analyst began dedicated work monitoring jail population data and system bottlenecks. A new jail population review team worked to identify trends at the system level and cases that could be eligible for faster resolution and alternatives to incarceration. A court reminder program was also established.



The county expanded the capacity for diversions and deferred prosecution agreements; re-examined practices around unpaid fines and fees; expanded mental health resources; connected people to community-based behavioral health services; created mental health diversion processes; and increased availability of peer support. The expansion included developing a deferred prosecution program for domestic violence cases.



Milwaukee County expanded the services that helped people return to the community. The Home to Stay Resource Fairs helped connect people with supportive resources. For returning citizens with medical needs, they could find the help they needed at the Midwest’s first Transitions Clinic.



New staff focused on reentry and community engagement. The Community Justice Council (CJC) created a process to release community subgrants. The county hosted open dialogues with community members and helped build connections between the community and criminal justice systems to work together to advance change.


As a result of the strategies above, Milwaukee County has made progress towards its goal of rethinking and redesigning its criminal justice system.

Quartery ADP for Milwaukee County (2016-2024)

17.7% from baseline

More Results

Milwaukee County has far exceeded its original goal, which was to reduce the overall jail population by 19%, thanks to a partnership among system and community stakeholders working hand-in-hand to build a more fair, efficient, and effective justice system.

As a result of the county’s efforts to center racial equity, county departments are now required to use an equity budget tool across multiple domains, including workforce inclusivity and diversity, people-focused design, employee perspective, and improved performance/equity practice.

The county’s emphasis on trauma-informed practices resulted in a better understanding of trauma among system stakeholders. Over 500 county employees were trained in how trauma impacts people throughout the justice system.

Remaining Challenges

Milwaukee County is focused on addressing its remaining challenges in its local justice system.

Racial disparities continue to persist in the local justice system. Going forward, the Race, Equity, and Procedural Justice workgroup outlined a six-point Racial Equity strategy. Under this strategy, the CJC will hire a racial equity coordinator, engage in analyses to address disparities at system decision points, develop a criminal justice strategic plan with system and community partners, re-launch a criminal justice learning series, and invite community members and people with lived experience to join criminal justice workgroups.

Lastly, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on every aspect of the county’s local justice system and continues to uniquely affect those incarcerated in the local jail. However, the foundation of collaborative, data-driven strategies supported by the Safety and Justice Challenge, including the necessary structures and collaboration from local stakeholders that are in place to support these strategies, has set the county up well to respond to the pandemic effectively.

Lead Agency

Milwaukee Community Justice Council (CJC)

Contact Information

Mandy Potapenko
CJC Director

Erin Perkins
SJC Project Manager


Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee County Circuit Court, Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Division, Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office, Milwaukee County Executive, Milwaukee County House of Correction, Milwaukee Police Department, Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office, Wisconsin Department of Corrections, Wisconsin State Public Defender’s Office

Follow @MKECJC

Blog Posts