The Wisconsin Department of Corrections Office of Detention Facilities releases their 2016 annual report

Trends in Adult and Juvenile Detention

The Wisconsin Department of Corrections Office of Detention Facilities released their annual report for 2016. The report shows data relating to the population of Wisconsinites in secure facilities. As has been highlighted by previous reports, arrest rates are down throughout Wisconsin and have been consistently declining for over twenty years. This report shows statistics dating back to 2008, and jail admissions mirror that trend. In 2016, there were 210,270 people admitted into Wisconsin county jails, a drop of 19% from 2008. However, 2016’s number was 1.7% higher than 2015’s, hinting at a potential flatlining of that decline. Also to note is that this change isn’t consistent everywhere. Rock County’s jail admissions declined by 25% in a year while Washburn’s increased 13.7%.

The average daily population in Wisconsin is also up 3% from 2015-2016, a higher increase than the number of admissions. More concerning is that the average daily population of Wisconsin jails was 9,459 in 1995 but 12,702 in 2016, despite crime peaking near that time in Wisconsin. The total Wisconsin population today is only about 1.11 times greater than 1995’s – not enough to account for the increase in population in the face of a decline of crime. Today’s crime rate is 2/3 the crime rate of 1995. Juvenile arrests have declined by 64% since 2002. Since longer sentences go to prison (not jail), this implies a significant number of people are in jails not for serving time. Likely culprits include violating probation/parole on technical violations and waiting pre-trial. These may both be areas to focus on in reducing incarceration and the costs associated, especially since crime is generally down. That being said, the total population is down from a peak of 14,870 in 2008.

Additionally, from 2007 to 2016, the population of county jails identifying as female has risen from 11.6% to 15%. This trend is not mirrored in juvenile detention, where females have stayed steady at 20%. It would be interesting to find out reasons behind increased female incarceration in Wisconsin.

Juvenile admissions have declined even more consistently than adult admissions, dropping 30% in the past six years. It dropped 2.5% from last year, with Rock County again leading the decline with a 32% decline and Waukesha County seeing a 32% increase.

Most troubling, however, is that, despite continued decreases in population in secure detention population since 2008, 2016 saw the highest number of non-suicide deaths in secure detention in 14 years (13 compared to a yearly average of 7) and the second highest number of suicides recorded in 14 years. This highlights the importance of mental health care, trauma-informed practices, and finding ways to avoid incarcerating people with mental health needs. Four of those deaths were in Milwaukee’s jail run by Sheriff David Clarke, who has come under scrutiny due to one of those deaths resulting from an inmate being denied water for seven days. Further scrutiny is needed to ensure that basic human rights are maintained for all inmates to prevent all possible deaths while under the custody of governmental agencies.

Leland Pan