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Drivers License Recovery Program Helps Families Improve Job Prospects (Continued)

Program is Supported by Judicial System and Workforce Organizations

The Center was founded in 2007 by the nonprofit Justice 2000, along with Legal Action of Wisconsin, the Milwaukee Area Technical College, and the Municipal Court of Milwaukee.

Judge James Gramling spent 21 years as a Municipal Court Judge for the city of Milwaukee. During those years, he saw a constant parade of cases involving driver’s license suspension and revocation. In the early 1990s, it became very clear to him that once low-income people were caught up in the process of suspensions and revocation, it became a cycle that they could not escape. This created substantial problems from both a justice perspective and a personal perspective: It tied up the Court’s time, it created a mountain of paperwork, and it kept poor people from being able to take the steps necessary to get their lives on a better track.

Having worked in legal service programs for low-income people for 15 years after law school, Gramling had an insider’s perspective on the barriers poverty can create. He decided to start an “advice project” with several community organizations that had clients who needed valid driver’s licenses in order to get or keep jobs. Gramling began to spend several days a month meeting with defendants, one on one, helping them to come up with a plan to deal with their license problems. There were two other judges in Milwaukee Municipal Court, and Gramling enlisted the other two to join him in his project. As the years went by, Gramling talked to others who were concerned about the strain and expense on the judicial system or who viewed the situation from a workforce perspective—people could not get jobs if they had suspended or revoked driver’s licenses.

A core group of community leaders, including Judge Gramling, came together in 2005 to create an institutional response to this problem. A representative from Making Connections in Milwaukee, part of the Casey Foundation’s Making Connections initiative*, participated in this planning effort. They spent two years planning and fund-raising to develop a model for what eventually became the Center for Driver’s License Recovery and Employability (CDLRE). During this time, a successful weekend event was held in the Making Connections neighborhood that offered drivers license recovery as a featured service, and Casey contributed funding to create a database for the new Center. The Milwaukee Bar Association and an anonymous donor provided $11,000 in funds to kick off the design and organization of the program. That was followed by $200,000 in funding from the City of Milwaukee and then $200,000 from foundations, including the Annie E. Casey Foundation. In March of 2007, the CDLRE began to serve clients.

The program is perfectly situated to meet the needs of both clients and caseworkers. Operating out of donated space at the Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC), the Center is right across the street from the courts and within quick walking distance of the Department of Motor Vehicles. Clients, caseworkers and Center attorneys can easily track down the information they need and attend court hearings without incurring the extra time and expense for travel around the city.

* For the past decade, Making Connections communities have been working to improve the lives and prospects of families living in some of America’s toughest neighborhood by creating economic opportunities, improving the quality of services and supports, and strengthening social networks.

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