The Fighting 14th!

The official blog of Milwaukee County Supervisor Jason Haas

Shakespeare in the Courts: My speech to the County Board

At the December 15, 2011 meeting of the Milwaukee County Board, arguably the most controversial item on our agenda was about the Shakespeare in the Courts (SITC) resolution from Supervisor Gerry Broderick. This caught the ear of many people, who wondered why the County, with all its difficulties, would want to spend money trying to make jail inmates learn and perform Shakespeare.

Why, of all things, Shakespeare?  Why not spend the money just keeping them locked up and off the streets?

The very thought of teaching prison inmates Shakespeare made this resolution an easy subject of ridicule by those who don’t know what the program actually entails. Or, for that matter, what it costs to keep a person in jail.

As the Wall Street Journal discussed in its April 25, 2006 article on Shakespeare in the Courts,

“Shakespeare in the Courts is meant to boost the kids’ self-esteem, to improve their communications skills, to develop a spirit of community and cooperation: ‘components for future success’ that also help them with anger management. The participants’ rap sheets vary; the judge mentions false bomb threats, shoplifting, moving violations, assault and battery.”

No guns or drugs. Nor, for that matter, do daggers appear directly in the program.

Shakespeare in the Courts is an alternative to incarceration for juvenile offenders. For just $65,000, as we voted on, the County can give a few kids a chance to learn how to do something different. Rather than being thrown in to the jail system, they can learn how to cooperate and collaborate with the members of the cast, and more importantly, think differently than they may have ever done or been taught before.

And let me emphasize that this is aimed squarely at juvenile offenders, aged 12 to 17. These kids, without an alternative to being thrown in jail, suddenly face the brutal incarcerated life. There, they are not reformed. If anything, they are traumatized, violated, and forever warped away from being a healthy member of society.

Such treatment comes with two high price tags. First it the cost of incarceration. To keep one child, just one, in any of our three secure detention facilities, costs Milwaukee County a total of $275 a day.

To keep the child in jail for a week costs $1,925.

To keep the child in jail for a month costs $8,250.

To keep the child in jail for a year  almost $100,000.

This is not to examine the long-term costs to the individual, who will be unable to participate in society, unlikely to graduate from high school, unlikely to be able to get a job.

Nor does this examine the cost to society of doing this.

But I do have the cost of keeping all 153 child-inmates, both girls and boys, in the County’s secure “correctional” facilities.  According to the figures provided by our Chief Intake and Probation Officer, in 2010, to keep all 153 child-inmates in jail, it cost the Milwaukee County taxpayer $16,849,605.

That is 16 MILLION,  eight-hundred and forty-nine thousand,  six-hundred and five dollars.  

And this is a system that we want to preserve?

Or should we spend just sixty-five thousand dollars to keep a few out, for much larger savings down the road?

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