A group of five students in the University Scholars Honors Program at MSOE presented their ambitious project at ending mass incarceration in front of a group of community partners on May 2nd at the school’s Grohmann Museum.
The “Wisconsin Decarceration Project” began in the Fall of 2018 as a targeted effort by Julilly Kohler and Gretchen Schuldt of the Milwaukee Turners’ Confronting Mass Incarceration (CMI) coalition, aimed at partnering with community partners and MSOE students in developing a real-world tool for connecting organizations, data and services with the unified goal of ending our ongoing incarceration problem.
The students, led by their professor Dr. Michael Carriere, presented their online platform concept which would include numerous portals connecting users to appropriate resources depending on their needs.
Those in the legal, policy or advocacy professions, for instance, could access recent and upcoming relevant legislation news on a dedicated portal on the platform. Community partners would be able to share stories and experiences on another area of the site, while another part of the platform would serve as a re-entry services page for those currently exiting incarceration. This page would share valuable information to users, such as how to obtain a state ID, housing and employment, and other valuable resources.
One of the group’s students, Paul Rinaldi, explains the project in more detail below:
Mass incarceration is a huge problem. The United States of America has one of the worst criminal justice systems in the world. We have the worst rates of incarceration and the most abysmal support system for post-incarcerated people. Catastrophically, Wisconsin’s incarceration rates are some of the worst of any state in the country.
There are many organizations formed to fight these issues and aid post-incarcerated individuals in unique and similar ways -- which is great. But without unity, there is competition, scarcity of resources, inefficiencies, higher costs... the fight is fragmented.
We are five first-year undergraduate students from the MSOE University Honors Program. While learning about Computer Science and Software Engineering in our normal classes, in our honors seminar classes and outside of school, we worked under the mentorship of Dr. Michael Carriere, Julilly Kohler, Romke De Haan, and Dr. Rob "Biko" Baker, and eventually formed to create the Wisconsin Decarceration Platform (WDP) under the mission to amplify, unify, and aggregate people, organizations, and information, as well as disseminate stories, real-time data, and steps to end the incarceration problem and strengthen our Wisconsin communities.
After meeting with Wisconsin community leaders, representatives, and organizations, we began the construction of a website featuring real-time updates from the Madison legislature, a calendar of all events, a list of services for those coming home, and a page suited to display data on the topic.
Over this past year we have met CEOs, directors of non-profits, team leaders, strategists, and individuals who are home to stay. That's a wide array of people, and the experience we have now in product creation, empathizing with clients, and teamwork is, we think, something very very special and transformative. Special because I don't know of many schools that do this project-based learning at this scale. It's been an incredible experience and we're so grateful for MSOE and everyone who has helped us along. This project is growing and changing and we're excited to see this project do so, sparking positive change in our community impacts us just as the change does in you.