As of March 3, 2015, the Felmers O. Chaney Advocacy Board (FCAB) is an independent body and is not affiliated with the Wisconsin Department of Corrections or any other governmental body or institution. FCAB is an advocacy board comprised of private citizens guided by a shared concern for social justice, corrections policy, and the successful re-entry of former inmates as they return to their communities. All documents on this site pre-dating March 3, 2015 are historical and in reference to FCAB’s prior incarnation as a Wisconsin Department of Corrections affiliated citizens advisory board. Click on the History tab for a chronology of the evolution of the Board.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” –Margaret Mead
Media Links See "Selected Newsworthy" Items on the Home Page
Black Nouveau, Black Men in Prison Town Hall Meeting, May 20, 2014http://www.mptv.org/localshows/black_nouveau/latest_episode/?v=b7HKWZ9AVg8&e=2232
Black Nouveau, Mass Incarceration, February 19, 2014
WUWM, Disproportionate Incarceration and Revocation
Tom Poston, “Racial Gaps Found in Traffic Stops in Milwaukee,” Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 12/3/11
The Chaney Correctional Center Community Advisory Board’s Response to Findings of Disparate Police Stops in Milwaukee posted on the Journal-Sentinel’s Website on 12/3/11
A report commissioned by the Milwaukee NAACP recommends an entrepreneurial training program as a way to help re-integrate black men into the community after leaving prison, a plan that would involve local business leaders and potentially decrease state spending on incarcerations.
R.L. McNeely helps present a report commissioned by the Milwaukee NAACP that recommends an entrepreneurial training program as a way to help re-integrate black men into the community after leaving prison.
The report, presented Wednesday, was prepared by R.L. McNeely, a lawyer and professor of social welfare at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, David Pate, a UWM assistant professor of social work, and Lisa Ann Johnson, a bachelor's degree candidate in social work at UWM.
The study presented data spanning nearly 40 pages about the "grim" situation Milwaukee's African-American population faces, focusing on topics like segregation, job loss and the cycle of poverty and incarceration.
It found, among other statistics, that black men are incarcerated at nearly 11 times the rate of whites in Wisconsin. Inmates cost the state more than $716 million annually.
The suggested entrepreneurial training program draws inspiration from successful initiatives in Chicago and New Orleans, with recidivism rates reportedly hovering around 10 percent or lower in some cases.
"This is a lot deeper than a mere job training program," McNeely said at a press conference. "The data coming in are evidence this is something we may want to try."
The program would involve a nongovernmental entity led by successful businesspeople who would train ex-offenders and help them run a sustainable business and employ other former inmates with "reasonable pay rates." The project would also include a counseling component, and would seek funding through private foundations, McNeely said.
The Chaney Correctional Center is exploring the concept and plans to meet with officials in the state Department of Corrections and others in the next few weeks to discuss it, said Dave McGinnis, who sits on the center's advisory board. The center, 2825 N. 30th St. in Milwaukee, focuses on work release programs for inmates.
"We're excited about (the potential program), and we're going to press for it," McGinnis said.
The report also recommended increasing the number of Montessori schools in the Milwaukee Public Schools system because it found that students in those schools have better learning outcomes than those in both MPS district and voucher schools.
Jermont Terry, Milwaukee Poverty Rate Increasing, WTMJ News Story, 9/22/11
Even in a good job market, the most difficult to employ are those with a criminal record and a minimal employment history.And if you’re a black male in Wisconsin with a criminal record, you have only a 5% chance of getting a callback from an employer when searching for a job.
So when the Felmers O. Chaney Correctional Center was opened in 2000, at 30th and Hadley streets, its mission to help soon-to-be-released inmates find work was thought to be one solution to a difficult problem. The facility would house only those inmates who would benefit most from comprehensive support services that would help them find jobs before they are released. The idea was that these work experiences would help inmates in their transition after incarceration and prevent newly released inmates from returning to a life of crime.
Now, almost nine years later, that original mission is in dispute. While the Department of Corrections (DOC) maintains that work-support programming is being offered to inmates at acceptable levels, the center’s community advisory board argues that services for inmates have diminished at the Chaney facility. The board also argues that the DOC has changed the designation of the facility from a pre-release center to a minimum-security prison, which reflects the diminished services and limited programming flexibility.
As a result of these changes, according to an April 2008 advisory board report, only 57 of 107 Chaney inmates were on full-time work release.
Making the Effort?
Gary Davis was the first superintendent of the Chaney Center and now serves on the community advisory board. He said that “there’s no magic wand” that will connect inmates to jobs, but the DOC and Chaney staff should at least demonstrate that efforts are being made to do so.
“If it’s impossible to [secure employment for inmates] because of the economic times we’re in right now, then the facility should be able to demonstrate at least its efforts in putting as many people in situations where they get interviewed and be considered for any and all employment, from the most menial labor to the jobs that would be considered more substantial,” Davis said. “You need to start developing those types of employment histories or community service experiences.”
John Dipko, spokesman for the DOC, said that appropriate work-support services are in place, even if jobs aren’t readily available. “We have increased the hours of community service performed by the Chaney inmates,” Dipko said.
As we went to press, the DOC and the executive committee of the Felmers O. Chaney Correctional Center Community Advisory Board were planning to meet in Madison. After negotiating over the agenda for the meeting, the DOC agreed to a more detailed agenda put forward by the advisory board, which included the mission of a pre-release center vs. a minimum-security prison; which inmates are eligible to stay at Chaney; public transportation for inmates; and inmate length of stay at Chaney.
Community advisory board chair R.L. McNeely said on Tuesday that he hoped the DOC would recognize “the collaborative spirit of the board” at the meeting and begin rebuilding a productive dialogue. “The board is taking our responsibility very seriously,” McNeely said.
Promises to the Community
The board’s criticism of the Chaney facility is especially stinging, because the board’s existence was essential to generating community support for the center. Named for former Urban League and local NAACP President Felmers O. Chaney, the facility was established as a state-of-the-art, forward-thinking pre-release facility that would help nonviolent offenders make a successful transition to independence upon release. It was the product of the merger of the Abode and St. John’s Correctional Center, and most inmates are from Milwaukee. To ensure the safety of the community, the inmates are carefully screened and assessed; no sexual offenders would be allowed to stay at the facility.
The DOC needed the community’s support to build the facility, so it promised nearby civic and neighborhood groups that a strong community advisory board would be involved in oversight of the facility.
Davis said that when the Chaney Center first opened, it engaged inmates in the community by allowing them to go on job interviews and to work sites, meet with relatives, go to a house of worship, get their hair cut, recover their driver’s licenses and other documents, take educational courses and exams, and provide community services. “We provided a constructive re-entry strategy,” Davis said. “We were putting people to work with less-than-stellar records.”
But that has changed, board members argue. The April 2008 memo stated that “almost all of the re-integration mechanisms […] have been eliminated, or sharply constrained, since 2002/03, thereby adversely affecting Chaney’s ability to accomplish its expressly stated mission while also amounting to a reneging on the promises DOC made both to community groups and to individuals in order to enlist community support for building the prison.”
McNeely said the result has been detrimental to the inmates and the wider community. He is concerned that sexual offenders are now being allowed to stay at the Chaney Center, although sexual predators are still banned. He argued that inmates aren’t staying at Chaney long enough to absorb the programming that is offered to them. And he says DOC staff in Madison isn’t responsive to the board’s concerns and suggestions.
“A lot of things are happening there to frustrate the mission the DOC agreed to in order to get community support to build the prison,” McNeely said.
Davis said the DOC has “retrenched a bit” in allowing inmates to become part of the community. Inmates oftentimes must wear prison garb when in public, instead of civilian clothing, and they are transported in vans instead of taking the bus, which limits the number of inmates who are allowed to travel in the city.
The DOC’s Dipko said there is still a “strong work-release component” at Chaney, but that DOC Secretary Rick Raemisch understood the concerns of the board. “He values the advisory role that the board has and he’s looking forward to meeting with them this week,” Dipko said.
Lisa Kaiser, Milwaukee Today: NAACP’s Report on the City’s African Americans, Express Milwaukee.Com, 6/21/11
Jeff Engel, NAACP: Entrepreneurial Training Would Save State Money, The Business Journal, 6/22/11
Mike Anderson, NAACP Releases Report on Black Milwaukee, Televised News Segment on WISN, 6/22/11.
Beverly Taylor, New State of Black America Report Released, Televised News Segment on Fox 6, 6/22/11
Danielle Wright, More Black Males Needed in Milwaukee, Black Entertainment Television News Story, 6/23/11
NAACP Releases Report: State of the Black Man in Milwaukee, Madison Times, 7/1/11
David Pate, Let’s Help Ex-Prisoners Find Work, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 7/16/11
Lisa Kaiser, The Frustrating Mission of Putting Inmates Back to Work, Shepherd Express, 1/7/09
October 12, 2000
Governor Dedicates New Men's Correctional Center
(Milwaukee)---At a ceremony held at the site of the new facility, 2825 North 30th Street, Governor Tommy G. Thompson dedicated the new Milwaukee Men’s Correctional Center as the Felmers O. Chaney Correctional Center. Inmates began transferring to the new 100 bed institution in May from two recently-closed state facilities, the Abode at 31 North 16th Street and St. John’s Correctional Center at 845 North Van Buren Street.
"This is a facility embraced by the community," Governor Thompson said. "It is dedicated to assisting in the protection of the community and being a partner in the neighborhood. The staff here prepares offenders for their successful, crime-free return to the community."
The development, planning, and siting of the new center was a cooperative effort, involving the Department of Corrections, the Milwaukee Police Department, the County Sheriff’s office, the County Judiciary, and the Opportunities Industrialization Center of Greater Milwaukee, Inc. Several local and state elected officials were also active.
"This new facility is an example of the strong partnerships working to benefit the state of Wisconsin, the city of Milwaukee, and Milwaukee County," said Jon E. Litscher, Secretary, Wisconsin Department of Corrections.
Civic and neighborhood groups including the Sherman Park Association, the 30th Street Industrial Corridor Group, Project Return, Career Youth Development, St. Vincent DePaul, and the Wisconsin Correctional Service have also been active in the correctional center effort in Milwaukee.
All offenders incarcerated at the new Chaney Correctional Center come from the Milwaukee area and are sentenced by the Milwaukee court system. The vast majority return to their original neighborhoods.
"One of our key responsibilities is to ‘train the difficult to train’ and to ‘employ the difficult to employ,’" said Gary Davis, Superintendent, Chaney Correctional Center. "In addition to our programming at the center, we also secure supplemental social service care and provide additional programming where needed to give each offender the best opportunity to succeed in the community."
Strategically located, the facility is readily accessible to all offenders released in the Milwaukee area. It is further convenient to several probation and parole offices at Sixth & Walnut, Seventh & Wells, Capitol Drive, Holton Street, and Kenilworth Place. These offices will supervise the offenders when they are released.
"We have and will continue to contribute to a safer community," Davis said. "Our security staff moves throughout the immediate community and the surrounding area. They are trained and alert to neighborhood activities and have multiple communication tools for prompt contact with police. Our presence will enhance rather diminish safety."
The minimum-security inmates at the new institution have already begun doing community service work by cleaning, mowing, and grooming the Fond Du Lac Avenue area near the center. While at the Abode and St. John’s, the inmates had been participants in many local efforts including riverbed maintenance, tornado damage remediation, and snow removal.
"We look forward to continuing as an active and constructive participant in the community," Davis said. "We intend to be a positive influence on community development and economic growth in the area through service activities, job placements, and successful transitioning of offenders back into the community."
The new center has an active community advisory board, which has already started working on finding religious support for the center and on assembling a qualified list of providers to meet the center’s local canteen needs.
Felmers O. Chaney has a long and distinguished record of community service in the Milwaukee area. His 30-year career with the Milwaukee Police Department included becoming the first African-American Sergeant in the history of that department. He also served as director for the Better Business Bureau, the Commando Project, and USO. He was a former president of the Urban League as well as the local NAACP chapter.
Even in retirement, Chaney has remained active in community activities including acting as chairman for the community advisory board for the Milwaukee Women’s Correctional Center/Marshal E. Sherrer Correctional Center Community Advisory Board. He also remains a member of the Milwaukee Economic Development Corporation Board, Wisconsin Crime Victims Council Board, the NAACP Board, and the Urban League.
His community service work and distinguished record exemplify the purpose of correctional centers in an urban area, a commitment to the belief that people can change if they are given the opportunity, the resources, and the direction.