Stop exploitation in the jail and HOC

Earnell Lucas, loving the money he gets from exploiting people held at the HOC.

Sheriff Earnell Lucas and his toady Ted Chisholm have been teaming up with private companies to exploit Milwaukee families for years. We can make them stop! At the county jail and house of corruption (HOC) people who want to talk to their families or eat halfway decent food need to use services provided at exploitative rates by private companies, who kick some of their profits back to Lucas and Chisholm at the county sheriff’s office (MCSO). 

On Thursday September 9, the county board’s judiciary, safety, and general services committee (JSGC) heard two resolutions that would significantly curtail this exploitation. The first would give free phone calls and video visits to everyone held in the jail and HOC, and the second would move toward limiting price gouging in the commissary. We described these resolutions in greater detail the week of the committee hearing. We’ve also had frequent fights with Earnell Lucas and Ted Chisholm about MCSO’s exploitation, lack of accountability, and greed

Outcomes from the hearing

The first resolution was “held over” which means opponents and undecided committee members delayed voting on it until the next JSGC meeting on October 21. We can win 75 free minutes of phone and video visit time for everyone held in the county jail and HOC if we convince hold-outs in that committee to vote in favor by Oct 21. Find a sample script and contact information for the JSGC members in the “take action” section below. 

The second resolution passed unanimously in the committee, which means it goes before the full board on September 23. If it passes the full board, the resolution won’t go into immediate effect, but will instead require that the county executive (David Crowley) adopts the price-gouging limits as “a policy goal to include in any future contract for commissary services”. The contract expires at the end of the year. Without support, the price limits could be ignored or compromised away by Crowley’s office during contract negotiations.

Links to both video and audio of the meeting are broken on the county board website, so a more detailed account of what happened will be forthcoming. Some committee members, especially Patti Logsdon and Sylvia Ortiz-Velez spoke against the resolution, but joined the majority in favor when they learned that it would not have an immediate fiscal impact. To ensure this resolution passes and has teeth during contract negotiations, we need as many members of the full board to vote in favor. Everyone, please contact your county supervisor and demand they vote in favor. 

Protest occupation outside the county jail after they arrested organizer Vaun Mayes during the George Floyd uprising.

While we’re contacting our supervisors about this commissary exploitation, let’s also encourage them to participate in the county book club. This is an opportunity created by supervisor Clancy and county board chair Marcelia Nicholson for county board members to discuss real approaches to public safety and the clearly contentious topic of defunding or abolishing police through a facilitated discussion of “We Do This Til We Free Us” by Mariame Kaba. A few dozen residents attended the first of three sessions, but Clancy is the only elected official who showed up to engage with them.

Defund, Dismantle, Abolish!

Most people of Milwaukee county want to take funds from law enforcement and invest them in community support and true public safety. Too many of our elected officials remain stubbornly committed to state violence, though. During last year’s budget process, they aggressively ignored public input about defunding police, as well as the massive protests that rocked this city and county. They ignored community organizations calling to defund the police, and refused to make cuts to MCSO that Clancy proposed. 

This year, the county executive has shut down one source of public input on the budget: the “balancing act” tool. Last year this tool fostered controversy because it initially did not allow people to imagine a more than 5% reduction to sheriff funding. Once that “bug” was fixed, it registered 60% support for defunding law enforcement, support which the board then ignored. 

Data from the 2020 “balancing act” tool, which has been cancelled this year. Image from Ryan Clancy.

By removing the tool, Milwaukee county elected officials are sacrificing transparency, public input, and democratic legitimacy to the false idol of sheriff Lucas’ shiny badge. When we ask them to engage with the ideas behind this controversy by attending an abolitionist book club the board itself created, they fail to show up. 

This year’s public hearing on the budget is scheduled for 6 PM on Monday, November 1, and the budget will be adopted by November 8. What’s going to happen when we show up to demand they defund MCSO? Will they shove fingers in their ears and shout “nahh nahh nahh nahh, I am not listening!” like immature children? Only one way to find out. Mark your calendars for Nov 1, and be sure to be there!

The county board upcoming schedule.

Take action

Fortunately, the county board seats are probably more vulnerable to public influence than any other elected official. We can win on these measures, or vote against and replace the board members who get in our way. To fight for your neighbors in need, all you have to do is send a couple emails: One to everyone on the JSGC and one to your particular county supervisor. If you can include a paragraph in your own words at the start of these emails, or make a phone call as well, it will add power and a personal touch to your message, but if all you have time for is a cut-and-paste, please do not hesitate. 

Message #1: free phone and video visits

anthony.staskunas@milwaukeecountywi.gov, sylvia.ortizvelez@milwaukeecountywi.gov, patti.logsdon@milwaukeecountywi.gov, Steven.Shea@milwaukeecountywi.gov, priscilla.coggsjones@milwaukeecountywi.gov

Hello members of JSGC,

I am contacting you about the resolution to give 75 free minutes of phone and video visit time to people held in the county jail and HOC. Maintaining connection with friends and family reduces the hardship and destabilization caused by incarceration. It reduces recidivism and thus serves public safety in the long run.

At your September 9 meeting, some committee members said this resolution would cost too much money. That is absolutely untrue. The county sheriff’s office makes revenue off of these phone calls and video visits, and they might make less if some of the calls are free, but that revenue also comes from the people of Milwaukee county, the ones making the calls and visits. The jail and HOC are far more likely to hold people who are living in poverty or struggling with economic instability, so the sheriff’s revenue is really coming from the exploitation of our most vulnerable neighbors. 

It is deeply troubling to me that our sheriff’s office budget depends upon this exploitation, but it is also economically foolish. People separated from their families in the jail and HOC are more likely to end up in prison, where their incarceration will cost us all far more in the form of state taxes.

Voting in favor of this resolution is the right choice from the perspective of public safety, fiscal responsibility, and basic humanity. Please do so.

Sincerely,
[your name]

[your address]

There are 5 members of the committee, two expressed support (Shea and Coggs-Jones) and two were vocally opposed (Ortiz-Velez and Logsdon), the fifth (Staskunas) voted against us, but was more quiet about it. At time of publishing, the video and audio of the committee meeting are unavailable. 

If you can also call committee members, it will have an even greater impact. Thanking those in favor will give them confidence during discussion at the next meeting. We only need three of the five to win, but contacting all of them may discourage those who are unconvinced. Here’s the numbers in order of importance. If you can only make a few calls, start at the top.

Anthony Staskunas (on the fence) (414) 278-4247
Priscilla E. Coggs-Jones (supportive, but wavering) (414) 278-426
Sylvia Ortiz-Velez (opposed) (414) 278-4269
Patti Logsdon (strongly opposed) (414) 278-4267
Steven Shea (strongly supportive) (414) 278-4231

Additionally, you can sign up to testify on October 21, at the county board website.

Message #2: limit price gouging on commissary 

If you don’t know your county supervisor, use this tool to find them. 

Hello supervisor [NAME],

I live in your district and I am contacting you today on three issues coming up this week.
1. Please vote in favor of the resolution limiting commissary price gouging in the jail and HOC. 

2. Please ask the county executive’s office to restore the “balancing act” tool. Eliminating it reduces the role of the public in county budget decisions. 
3. Please get a copy of Mariame Kaba’s “We do this til we free us”, read it, and attend the county-wide book club. Facebook event with details: https://www.facebook.com/events/571012030738122 I don’t expect you to agree with everything Kaba writes, but would like to know that you are willing to engage in this vitally important discussion about our community’s approach to public safety. 

Fighting to win

Take these actions before Thursday, September 23 to send a strong message to the county board that we are not done fighting against the rotten system of white supremacy and law enforcement corruption in Milwaukee county. Sheriff Earnell Lucas is the man primarily responsible for this exploitation, and he recently announced intentions to run for mayor of the whole city. We cannot allow that.

Prepare for opportunities to testify and contact board members in support of defunding efforts throughout the budget process this fall. Please share this article, the below graphics, and our instagram post to encourage others to take action. 

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