John Chisholm, Milwaukee County district attorney, has compassion for the citizens


Photo by JoAhne Penney

Milwaukee County district attorney, John T. Chisholm, discusses with students at the MATC West Allis Campus the issues of declining jobs and the increase of crimes in the Milwaukee area.

Milwaukee County District Attorney, John T. Chisholm, started on his path toward being district Attorney after he left the military, at the rank of first lieutenant. He briefly considered medical school, but after completing a prosecutors program in northern Wisconsin, where he worked with incarcerated persons, he found his calling.

Chisholm commented, “What drives me forward is the opportunity to change our community for the better. We want to do it ethically and fairly, and we do it because we want to make a difference.”

  In 1965 Milwaukee County was in the top 10 wealthiest counties in the country, mainly due to all the manufacturing jobs. During the late ‘70s and early ‘80s the manufacturing companies began shutting down. Unemployment increased as did the use of crack cocaine, and other illegal drugs.

This created quite the problem for Milwaukee County. With so many good jobs leaving the inner city, the drug dealers began to take over. These dealers would viciously defend their territories, resulting in a sharp increase of armed robberies and murder. Heroin is the current major drug problem, he said. The youth have access to their parents’ prescribed pain pills and then get hooked. They cannot afford to buy the prescribed drugs, so they resort to heroin, which is plentiful and affordable. Opiate drug overdose deaths have tripled in the last couple of years. Since 2007 Chisholm has helped to bring down the incarceration rate of African-American men in Wisconsin. Chisholm stated, “This job takes a great toll on you. You see the best, and the worst in people.” Surprisingly, the demographic which has the most increase in incarceration rate is white males convicted of operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol.

Chisholm believes that a youthful first offender deserves a chance to get his life back on track, but they must first accept the consequences of their decisions and actions.  He is recommending that the penal system revert back to community-based prisons and jails, because the entire community suffers when you send offenders hundreds of miles away.  By keeping juveniles close to home, they are able to stay in contact with their support system, like family and friends, so when they return home they are more likely to succeed. Milwaukee County has local low and medium risk facilities for juveniles, but nothing currently for high risk individuals, he noted.