'It's a new day': Acting Milwaukee Sheriff gives tour of jail after unfavorable report

Milwaukee County Acting Sheriff Richard Schmidt gave an unprecedented tour of the Milwaukee County jail Thursday. It comes after an outside review of the jail found some areas that need improvement.

Schmidt requested that outside review when he became interim sheriff in September. Consultants from the National Institute of Corrections spent three days at the Milwaukee County Jail last month. Among their list of findings: inmates waiting too long for medical screenings, staff shortages, and outdated policies.

But Schmidt says changes are already in place.

“It’s a new day, a new dawn, we have changed this facility,” he said.

Schmidt criticized the past administration, without directly mentioning former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke.

“Everything rises and falls with leadership,” he said. “I put new leadership in place. Our new jail administrator Aaron Dobson has already really improved things.”

Schmidt was jail commander for 10 years starting in 2002. He says the jail was run much more effectively during that time.

“We didn't have the kind of issues that you've been seeing recently,” he said.

In the past two years, there have been seven inmate deaths in the Milwaukee County Jail. Four of them were ruled as no wrongdoing. Two are still under investigation. But one of those deaths led to criminal charges against three jail staffers.

“That is the most disturbing part of what's taken place,” Schmidt said.

As Schmidt led city and county leaders, and local media on a tour of the jail, he pointed to some new additions, like three new wellness coordinators.

“They spend their entire day, every shift going cell to cell checking on the vulnerable population specifically,” he said.

The health of inmates is the biggest challenge. Out of 900 inmates at the Milwaukee County Jail today, at least 300 of them suffer from a mental health issue. Another 300 have some sort of medical condition.

“Many of them have been living on the streets,” Schmidt said. “Many have very serious drug and alcohol addictions.”

The jail has the capacity to house about 960 inmates at any one time. More than 34,000 inmates come through the facility on an annual basis. In 2017, there were 2,489 medical emergencies at the Milwaukee County Jail, and 726 inmates had to be transported to the hospital.

Schmidt showed us the booking area, mental health unit, discipline pod, and general population section. Schmidt calls his goal “transparent transformation.”

“I want people to know that when their loved ones and friends are in the Milwaukee County Jail, they're being treated properly,” he said.

In response to the outside review, an update of all jail policies, and a full staff analysis still needs to be completed.  Currently, the jail is not fully staffed, leading to some overtime issues.  Schmidt expects the jail to be fully staffed with 300 employees by the end of 2018.

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