Nearly 1,000 prison reform, social justice advocates rally in Madison
Mar 14, 2013 |
Jennifer K. Woldt
Oshkosh Northwestern Media
Nearly 1,000 people from faith-based organizations across Wisconsin rally for prison reform and social justice on the steps of the State Capitol Thursday, March 14, 2013 in Madison. About 50 members of ESTHER in the Fox Valley were among the participants. / Shu-Ling Zhou/Oshkosh Northwestern Media
Darla Leuthold has seen what it’s like behind prison walls.
With a family member currently serving a sentence in the Wisconsin prison system, Leuthold has visited those buildings, which she compared to a warehouse, where inmates do little until the weeks before they are released from their sentence.
It’s a system that Leuthold wants to change.
“It’s broken,” the Oshkosh woman said. “It’s incredibly broken and it’s costing our taxpayers way too much money.”
Leuthold was one of nearly 1,000 people from faith-based organizations across Wisconsin who gathered in Madison Thursday for People of Faith United for Justice, a daylong day of action aimed at advocating for prison reform and other social justice issues pertaining to affordable healthcare and public transportation.
A central focus of the group was the 11x15 campaign, which aims to reduce the state prison population by 11,000 by 2015, throgh alternative sentencing of non-violent offenders and an increased forcus on addiction treatment programs.
A busload of more than 50 people from ESTHER, a faith-based organization in the Fox Valley, went to the event, which was held at Bethel Lutheran and First United Methodist churches in Madison.
“We’ll be praying with our feet as we speak with our feet,” Hannah Rosenthal, the chief executive officer of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation, said during the day’s opening remarks.
After a morning of break out sessions that focused on individual issues such as prison reform, affordable healthcare and public transportation, those gathered rallied on the steps of the state Capitol before meeting with state legislators to discuss the issues and what they believe needs to be done.
A dozen people crowded into the office of State Sen. Richard Gudex, R-Fond du Lac, and spoke with his policy advisor, Lance Burri, about the 11x15 campaign.
Sister Mary Barbieur, of Oshkosh, told Burri that she, and others involved in the day of action, would like to see an additional $75 million included in the state budget for treatment alternatives and diversions, which would help increase the number of people who would be able to enroll in those programs.
“My faith and my values have brought me here today,” she said. “I hope to plant the seeds, if they haven’t already been planted, for our legislature to see the need for more money in the budget for TAD programs, for the upfront treatment for people who have mental illness and addictions, rather than putting them in prisons.”
For Sister Stella Storch, the justice coordinator for the Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes in Fond du Lac, participating in the day-long event was a chance to have her voice heard on prison reform.
Storch, who is also a member of the community relations board at Taycheedah Correctional Institution, said she knows the facility has some programming for its inmates, but rather than focusing on treatment, those programs aim more to keep the inmates busy.
She said this needs to change.
“I believe in 11x15, that we reduce our prison population,” Storch said. “I think warehousing humans, who are our brothers and sisters in Christ, is inexcusable.”
Rev. Willie Brisco, who is involved with MICAH/WISDOM in Milwaukee, said he has seen the need for these reforms during a 25-year career in corrections.
“I saw the disposable lives that came through those doors with talents,” Brisco said. “But they weren’t given that nudge because they were considered disposable.”
Before breaking off into break out session, Rev. Bryan Massingale , a professor of theology at Marquette University, gave an opening address that pinpointed why he believed the voices of those who filled the pews in the sanctuary at Bethel Lutheran Church would be able to make an impact.
“What brings us here is our concern for justice, the poor, the vulnerable and the voiceless,” Massingale said. “What bring us here I not rooted in our politics, but in our faith.”
MADISON, Wis. - Hundreds of people from all faiths gathered at the state Capitol on Thursday to call on lawmakers to help reduce the state's prison population.
The protesters want to cut the state's prison population in half by 2015, replacing the high cost of incarceration with rehabilitation efforts.
Several Catholic bishops and leaders of other denominations spoke at the rally.
"We can reduce our prison population by one half by putting people on home-monitoring devices and by giving them treatment and other kinds of programs instead of prison," said Tim Kehl, a retired Madison pastor. "Our concern now, since the governor has already presented his budget, is to go to the Joint Finance Committee and to see if we can get some funds put into county treatment and diversionary programs, rather than just people in prison."
Buses brought supporters from Green Bay, Appleton, Wausau, Eau Claire, Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha who were joined by many from Madison and other parts of the state.
The event was co-sponsored by the Wisconsin Council of Churches, WISDOM, Madison-area Urban Ministries, the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee, the Lutheran Office on Public Policy and the Jewish Federation of Greater Milwaukee.
Thursday, March 14 2013, 10:21 PM CDT
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