Milwaukee leaders discuss findings of Wisconsin Policy Forum report on pandemic effects on justice system

NOW: Milwaukee leaders discuss findings of Wisconsin Policy Forum report on pandemic effects on justice system

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- A group of Milwaukee leaders held a roundtable discussion at Marquette Tuesday to go over the results of a Wisconsin Policy Forum report in August that examined the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on our local justice system.


The study took eight months and analyzed data from 2018 through the end of 2022, using information from partners like law enforcement, the district attorney's office, social services, and corrections.

It found key parts of our justice system are struggling to recover fully from lower arrest numbers, lower charge rates from the district attorney's office, severe staffing problems across the board, and a backlog of pending cases.

"We have pending cases up to the number of about 5,000, and 1,500 of that are considered backlog," said Milwaukee County Circuity Court Chief Judge Carl Ashley. 

The key now is finding short, medium, and long-term solutions, like the sales tax that was recently passed in the county.

“It’s sort of like you had cracks in the dam to begin with and then it just all broke open," said Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm. “If you’re not going to look at yourself and you’re not going to be transparent with the public, then you’re not going to see change.”

The meeting lasted for about an hour, with a brief question-and-answer session from community members. 

“I don’t like to say it’s any particular person's fault at all these things, we all have a hand in being better, doing better, working better," said Milwaukee Police Chief Jeffrey Norman, adding that he hopes the public can increase its trust within our government agencies.

During the discussion, officials compared the justice system to "an ecosystem," adding that when one thing falls, the rest can easily follow.

“Our effort is to figure out how not only can we deal with the backlog, but how can we do things differently," Judge Ashley said.

Also present at the meeting was Lubar Center Director Derek Mosley, Wisconsin Policy Forum President Rob Henken, Regional Attorney Manager of the State Public Defender's Milwaukee Trial Office Tom Reed, and former Chief Judge Mary Triggiano.

“Everybody’s been working incredibly hard throughout this entire process, and that everybody’s passionate about creating a safer and more healthy community," Chisholm said. "We work on that each and every day."

To read the full report, click here

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