Youth Justice Milwaukee (YJM), has released a new set of recommendations outlining steps Milwaukee County should take to close youth prisons and keep families whole and communities safe. The YJM coalition of community organizations, youth advocates and family members of youth involved in the juvenile justice system offered their recommendations in a new report, Safer Communities, Stronger Families: Creating a Community-Based Continuum of Services and Supports for Milwaukee’s Adjudicated Youth, available here.
The rampant abuses at Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Cooper Lake School for Girls have been widely documented, as the facilities remain under investigation by the FBI. In recent months, allegations of sexual assault, use of pepper spray, strangulation and suffocation of youth, as well as destruction of public records, have renewed calls for the closure of these outdated, inhumane facilities.
“Lincoln Hills and Cooper Lake demonstrate what we already know: youth prisons don’t work,” said Youth Justice Milwaukee’s Sharlen Moore. “Instead of rehabilitating and helping our kids get on the right track, these dangerous, violent facilities traumatize young people and leave them much less likely to succeed. Youth Justice Milwaukee is committed to transforming the county’s juvenile justice system by advocating for commonsense recommendations. For far too many of our city’s youth, this is truly a matter of life and death.”
Based on findings from national experts, YJM recommends that Milwaukee County close Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Cooper Lake School for Girls while expanding local sentencing options to create a fairer, safer and rehabilitative juvenile justice system. Each year, Wisconsin spends a total $162,800,000 to upkeep its failing juvenile justice system. At Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake alone, the cost to incarcerate one youth surpassed $100,000 in 2013, and continued to rise. Instead, YJM urges the county to redirect these funds to community-based treatment programs that provide more effective support, mentorship and supervision at every stage of the juvenile justice system in neighborhoods most impacted by youth crime and incarceration.
The recommendations also address racial and ethnic disparities plaguing Wisconsin’s juvenile justice system. In 2014, African American youth made up almost 70 percent of youth committed to juvenile correctional facilities in the state, but only about 10 percent of Wisconsin’s total youth population. With the incarceration rate for black youth over 16 times the national average, Wisconsin in one of the top five least equitable states in the country. A community-based juvenile justice system, as recommended by YJM, would address these glaring racial and ethnic disparities and help ensure that all youth have access to the opportunities and support systems they need to be successful.
Read Youth Justice Milwaukee’s full list of recommendations here.