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