Public testifies against Milwaukee County Sheriff's jail report

Public testifies against Milwaukee County Sheriff's jail report

On Thursday, September 28, the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors held a Committee of the Whole meeting. Among the agenda items for discussion was an informational report by the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) regarding conditions in the County Jail and a possible audit.

During the meeting, the MCSO gave an overview of their budget, chain of command and roles, as well as daily procedure in the jail. After an overview of the scope was given, there was an opportunity for public comment. Individuals who spoke, spoke to the urgent need for transparency and accountability in the jail. “It has been very hard to come back here and fight for what should have been done a long time ago. At [this rate], there is a death in the County Jail every two months. We are losing our loved ones,” said Kerrie Hirte, mother of Cilivea Thyrion. Cilivea died in the Milwaukee County jail from suicide in 2022.

Other members of the Milwaukee Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (MAARPR) called for the support of victims' families. “We need to explore different options and keep talking about this issue for the sake of seeking good practical solutions,” said Alan Chavoya, outreach chair for MAARPR. After the public comment portion, the MCSO continued the presentation on procedures in the County Jail. Most of the data that was gathered focused on statistics of the populations in the jail and some policies.

County supervisors were also able to ask questions about the MCSO’s presentation and report. Some supervisors questioned why the Waukesha County Sheriff’s Department handles investigations for incidents involving the MCSO. The answer given by the MCSO was that this procedure was fair and impartial and offered no “quid pro quo.”

“We keep saying money because we need it. What is going to make our jail a better and safer place is more money,” said a chief staffer of the County Jail. During the MCSO presentation, the office staff continued to point towards the issue of understaffing and inability to offer competing wages as the main problems facing the County Jail. County Supervisors Felesia A. Martin, Willie Johnson, and Sheldon Wasserman supported the rationale for more funding. Wasserman stated, “We have a problem here, the officers are not to blame. You have correctional officers working $26.34 an hour with dozens of murderers and rapists in one room!”

Following comments from the Committee of the Whole, there was a motion made to file the audit, and the majority ruled in favor of filing the audit. Progressive county supervisors supported the measure in hopes that the full board may be able to keep the subject open to prospective committees. There is still more work to be done, such as issuing a comprehensive audit of the MCSO, but it would be an intermediary step to true accountability and transparency in the County Jail. In order to ensure true accountability and transparency, groups like MAARPR have been pushing for an elected Civilian Accountability Council with the power to hire and fire the Sheriff, control the MCSO budget, create and change MCSO policy, and have full access to investigations pertaining to the County Jail.