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  • Milwaukee Freedom Fund

Statement on "Bail Reform" Criticisms in Wisconsin

Updated: Nov 28, 2021

Community safety means addressing the underlying causes of crime and investing resources on life and community affirming endeavors. The Wisconsin carceral system preys on marginalized communities and particularly hurts both rural and urban communities that are victimized by “organized abandonment”. Milwaukee Freedom Fund, Free The 350 Bail Fund, and Joshua Glover Justice Fund are organizations dedicated to ending cash bail and pretrial detention in Wisconsin. Our collective work focuses on supporting the most targeted and marginalized communities to assert their legal right to the presumption of innocence and their constitutionally protected right to bail. We oppose pretrial detention and cash bail which harm communities and are racist, classist, and ableist.


As the first national survey of survivors of violence illustrates, people who have been harmed want to focus on healing and rehabilitation, not punishment and incarceration. The safest communities are well-resourced communities, not the ones with the most policing, prosecution, and incarceration which do not keep us safe. It is a profound tragedy when any person is harmed; people who have been hurt need and deserve access to community support, trauma services, and healing. It is for these reasons that we prioritize investing in restorative and transformative justice and community-led safety.


High bails do not increase safety, rather they make sure that only the wealthy and people with access to resources go free. The recent November 21 tragedy in Waukesha is being framed by law enforcement, district attorneys and elected officials in an attempt to erode the rights of Wisconsinites and cause further harm to poor, working class, communities of color around the state. Much of the commentary from law enforcement and some politicians is ill-informed and ignores both current research and history, their accounts give political credence that allows Wisconsin to lead the nation in incarcerating Black people. Besides this narrative having the material impact of the state criminalizing whole communities, it affords white nationalists ammunition to do harm.


In a recent Washington Post article Alexa Van Brunt, director of the MacArthur Justice Center Clinic at Northwestern University, addresses the problem of cash bail as it pertains the Waukesha incident: “Pointing to one incident is not reflective of what is happening on a systemic level. At a systemic level, when you get away from cash bond and do more evidence-based pretrial release, public safety is actually protected by that because people go back to their communities, they go back to their jobs, they go back to supporting their families.”


Our communities deserve safety and compassion, not more criminalization, policing, incarceration and surveillance. Policy makers and elected officials need to make real community centered investments in housing, healthcare, non-carceral mental health resources, healing and trauma services, education, employment and economic opportunity over more funding for policing and prisons to solve social problems. It is only through a radical transformation of our state’s priorities that our marginalized citizens can hope for collective healing.


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