“We are shocked by the latest chapter in our country’s dark history of ripping children of color from their families and locking them up in cages, from slavery to the construction of the first youth prison in 1825 to the Trump Administration’s horrific immigration policies we’re seeing today. This legacy has shown us the long-term consequences of separating young people from their families. The horror that is occurring at our borders is inflicting long-term harm to children. No matter their nationality, children must be treated with respect and dignity – not as political bargaining chips. We demand this inhumane policy be stopped immediately.”
Youth Justice Milwaukee co-founders Sharlen Moore and Jeffery Roman released the following statement after a settlement was reached to overhaul Wisconsin’s treatment of young people in the juvenile justice system:
“Today’s settlement only begins to acknowledge the years of abuse, trauma, and neglect that Wisconsin’s children suffered at Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake. The fact that it was ever considered acceptable to lock children up alone for weeks in tiny cells, restrain them or use chemical agents shows how outdated and abusive youth prisons are.
“This settlement was long overdue – but there’s still a lot of work to do to replace outdated institutions with more effective alternatives. We’re eager to work together with the independent monitor, state officials, and community members to make that a reality.”
Youth Justice Milwaukee is a broad-based campaign advocating for community-based, family-centered, restorative programs as an alternative to locking up children in Wisconsin’s youth prisons. Youth Justice Milwaukee represents a coalition of persons who were incarcerated as youth, families of youth who are or were incarcerated, service providers, and local and national youth justice advocates.
Site Visit to Family Support Program in the Bronx Family Court
Last week, campaign leaders from Virginia, Wisconsin, Connecticut, Kansas and New Jersey gathered in New York City to experience successful examples of community-based alternatives to incarceration – and study how to build similar programs in their own communities. We all agree that youth prisons need to close, but it is up to us to design a better system – and work to make it a reality. Campaign leaders also heard expert advice and participated in strategic planning sessions to take their state campaigns to the next level.
Site visit to an ARCHES program at the Harlem Commonwealth Council
Advocates left the sites with new tools to imagine and propose the range of programs and services our youth need, to identify and build relationships, and demonstrate the value of a new approach. From credible messenger mentoring to parent support programs, in New York City we saw the difference it makes when young people, their families, and communities are truly a part of the process of designing and implementing a better youth justice system. A special thanks to Community Connections for Youth for helping us coordinate all the site visits!
Site visit to Living Redemption Youth Opportunity Hub
In Case You Missed It
In Virginia, activists with RISE for Youth delivered more than 1,000 postcards to Governor Ralph Northam, calling for him to reject proposals to build a new youth prison:
RISE for Youth has been vocal about the future of Virginia’s juvenile justice system since Beaumont Juvenile Correctional Center closed last year.
The group seeks community-based alternatives to incarceration.
“We recognize that sometimes secure care is needed, but that secure care should be small and that it should be regionally located within the communities where young people are coming from,” said Slater.
The Youth First Team
Yesterday, our partners at the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance (CTJJA) celebrated Governor Dannel Malloy’s announcement that the Connecticut Juvenile Training School (CTJS), a youth prison for boys, has finally closed! This makes Connecticut the first state in the country to close all its youth prisons.
This is a huge victory for CTJJA, for their Justice Advisors, all the community members statewide who shared their wisdom and their passion, and allies in state government who were willing to listen and learn. They did it with the help of supporters nationwide, including many of you—so THANK YOU for all you’ve done.
Read CTJJA’s statement on the closure: https://ctjja.org/breaking-news-ct-juvenile-training-school-officially-closed/
CTJS opened in 2001, but its roots are old; it was simply a newer version of Connecticut’s first youth prison, The State Reform School, which opened in 1854 after the state abolished slavery. This historic closure was a long time coming. In October 2017, after tireless work from CTJJA, the legislature set a date of July 1, 2018 to remove all the boys from the prison. Since then, CTJJA’s team has been educating, organizing, and advocating, to make the closure happen on schedule and ensure no child fell through the cracks during the transition. More than two months early, they have succeeded in that goal.
As CTJJA reminds us in their statement, this hard work is not over. The state now needs to truly involve the community – especially currently and formerly justice-involved youth, their families, and others most affected by the system – in reshaping juvenile justice. It is time to build and invest in mentoring, mental health and substance use disorder treatment, education, and accountability programs that truly rehabilitate.
The team at CTJJA, their Justice Advisors, and advocates across the state are committed to keeping the pressure on. Connecticut’s kids deserve it. I know we can count on all of you to have their backs, too.
Congratulations again to the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance team and all the advocates in Connecticut, for their years of work to close this prison. They have set the state on a path to a more just future.
The Youth First Team
Today, our partners in Wisconsin, Youth Justice Milwaukee, celebrate one-year since launching their grassroots campaign to close youth prisons and specifically close the state’s notoriously abusive youth prisons, Lincolns Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls. On their one-year-anniversary, the Wisconsin legislature sent a bill to Governor Scott Walker’s desk to be signed that will close these two youth prisons once and for all.
This legislation speaks to the remarkable commitment and work that Youth Justice Milwaukee has shown since launching. They have fearlessly called for change – even calling out their allies and friends who have said they were asking for too much. This prison closure has been years in the making and goes beyond Youth Justice Milwaukee. It is a reflection of the resilience and passion of the communities in Wisconsin that refused to stand for injustice any longer. While the bill is far from perfect and our work to reform the justice system in Wisconsin is not over, this is a victory nonetheless.
The bill requires the closure of Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake by January 1, 2021 – but unfortunately converts the buildings into an adult prison and requires one or more youth prisons to be built to house youth who are convicted of serious offenses. The bill also provides funding to local counties to build or re-purpose county buildings for new out of home placements for youth. Finally, it requires a committee of primarily legislative representatives and government agencies to determine what kind of facilities and facility programming should exist in both the new state youth prisons and county placements.
Youth Justice Milwaukee co-founders Sharlen Moore and Jeffery Roman released the following statement after the Wisconsin state legislature voted to pass legislation today:
“Today, we turned a page with a vote to close Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake, but our leaders need to remember that as far as youth prisons go, Lincoln Hills is notorious, but it is not unique. All youth prisons are ineffective, costly and abusive, so moving forward, let’s not repeat past mistakes. Our lawmakers must not ignore the people that this legislation will affect the most. Now, more than ever, community activists and young people need to be a part of designing the future of youth justice in Wisconsin. We were reminded of the consequences that come when communities are powerless in these decisions by the tragic details of the $18.9 million settlement our state made earlier this week. We need a meaningful seat at the table in this conversation – on the study committee –to ensure that we don’t end up with another broken, traumatizing youth prison.
“For years, we’ve watched as young people from our communities — the majority of whom are youth of color – were taken far away from their families and locked up in a prison that is known for its abuse. Wisconsin doesn’t need another Lincoln Hills and we don’t want another brick-and-bars locked building. Instead, let’s work toward real investment in community solutions. Let’s create a better Wisconsin together.”
Our work is not over when it comes to Wisconsin. Youth Justice Milwaukee’s advocacy will continue as we fight to raise the voices of young people and community activists in this decision-making process. We are against the building of new youth prisons or facilities, using Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake to imprison anyone, and we are pushing for changes to this legislation in the next session. The abuse in Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake might have been extraordinary but so much about these youth prisons was not unique. That is why we know that closing two youth prisons is not enough and we must fight to stop any new construction and to end the system that incarcerates young people of color at a staggering rate.
Thanks again to Youth Justice Milwaukee and all the advocates in Wisconsin that fought for the closure of Lincoln Hills and tried to prevent further funding for additional youth prisons.
The Youth First Team