How to write your rep about police and prison abolition

Step 1: Find your reps

Figure out who you want to write and what power they hold:

Use the Wisconsin Election Commission website to find all of your elected officials

Step 2: Write a concise letter in your own words

Madison DSA has endorsed the “Doyle Resolution” to stop the county jail expansion project. When you write your County Supervisor, it is important to clearly state that you are asking for them to support this resolution. Stating your request early on in your statement can help your supervisor understand your request.

Templates can be valuable time savers, but once your representative starts to see the same letter over and over again, the impact drops off.  Take a few extra minutes to write your own message, it doesn’t have to be very long to have a big impact.  Make sure to (1) state who you are, including if you are a constituent, (2) be as specific as possible when asking for what you want, (3) focus on your strongest arguments and illustrate them with data specific to the situation, and (4) emphasize the impact you see in your life and your community.

Step 3: Bring in resources

You can make a bigger impact by using solid data and resources as you write your letter, particularly data that speaks to your community. 

  • School resource officers arrest black students four times the rate of white students in Madison Schools.  
  • Madison spends over $80 million annually on police while only spending about $8 million on community health while in 2019, the black infant mortality rate was three times higher than for white infants.
  • Only 28% of people with a mental illness and 17% of people who abuse substances receive care in Dane County.
  • Check out the list below for more information about the jail expansion project

More data and resources are further down on this page.

Step 4: Stay involved

Support Black-led activists in Madison, such as Freedom, Inc., Urban Triage, and Impact Demand.  Connect with Madison DSA through our website, madison.dsausa.org.

Information about the Jail Expansion

  • Black people are incarcerated in the Dane County Jail at much higher rates than white people. Spending $148 million on the jail consolidation project is an investment in our racist criminal justice system. 
  • Instead of making this racist investment, it is time for Dane County to begin the hard work of actually resolving our racial disparities by investing in human services instead of law enforcement and incarceration. The 2020 operating budget allocation for adult mental health and addiction treatment services $12.3 million, compared to the $73.8 million allocated to the Dane County Sheriff.
  • While Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney has often argued that we need the jail consolidation project because the number of people incarcerated in Dane County can’t be brought any lower, during the COVID-19 pandemic the number of people in the Dane County jail dropped from ~800 to ~450 people, proving that when we have the will, we can actually incarcerate fewer people. We should figure out how to make this change permanent instead of spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a jail.   
  • Spending $148 million on a jail consolidation project locks us into using the new facility. It commits us to continue incarcerating people at the same rate that we did pre-COVID-19 well into the future. 
  • Halting the jail project gives our community a chance to move away from incarceration as a solution to our problems. This is an opportunity to try new policy solutions to prevent crime and resolve problems. 
  • Parts of the current jail are dangerous and inhumane. The jail consolidation project won’t address these problems for five years. We should halt the jail project and explore more immediate solutions that do not keep us permanently wedded to incarceration. 
  • The concept of a mental health prison is a contradiction. The very nature of prison is alienating and designed to make prisoners feel uneasy and unsafe. In such conditions, mental health treatment cannot occur and there is significant evidence that prison seriously harms the mental health of prisoners, many of whom already suffer higher rates of mental illness and addiction.
  • Resolution 145 halts all activity related to the design and construction of a new $148 million dollar jail facility. It also points the County toward a number of reforms that have been recommended in the past that could lower the number of people in the criminal justice system and the jail. The intention is to divert funding from law enforcement and the jail and instead fund human service programming to help people with problems including drug addiction, alcoholism, and mental health problems.

More resources

Finding your officials
Wisconsin Elections Commission – My Voter Info
Dane County Board of Supervisors
MMSD Board of Education
Madison Common Council
State Assembly
State Senate

Letter writing suggestions
ACLU guide to “Writing your Elected Representatives

Budget Data
City of Madison Budget: https://www.cityofmadison.com/budget
MMSD Budget: https://budget.madison.k12.wi.us/files/bpa/uploads/2019-20_budget_book_-_january_2020.pdf

Data on Police in Madison Schools
Freedom Inc. – Police Free Schools campaign info
Families for Justice – ERO/SRO info sheet

Data on Racial Disparities in Dane County
Race to equity report (summary)
UW-Madison Institute for Research on Poverty
Cap Times analysis of Madison Police Use of Force.
Madison Police Department quarterly data reports
JFA Report on incarceration in Dane County


Dane County Public Health and Mental Health Reports
Dane County 2019 Maternal and Child Health Data Book
Dane County Behavioral Health Needs Assessment

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