In response to legislation proposed by State Senator Leah Vukmir and State Representative Joe Sanfelippo that would send youth to the dangerous Lincoln Hills and Cooper Lake youth prison facilities for longer periods of time and for a larger number of offenses, Youth Justice Milwaukee (YJM), a coalition of community organizations, youth advocates and family members of youth involved in the juvenile justice system, released the following statement:
“Rather than protecting public safety, this legislation will have the opposite effect. Instead of putting more kids behind bars, legislators should be looking to proven alternatives to incarceration that are rehabilitative and keep kids in their own communities. This regressive bill would destroy families, put our most vulnerable youth in danger, and make it less likely that they will get the help they need. With youth prisons like Lincoln Hills and Cooper Lake under federal investigation for their unconscionable treatment of children, Wisconsinites know that it is time to change a system that doesn’t work. YJM continues to call for the closure of these facilities, and calls on our elected officials to do the same and reject this harmful legislation.”
Overwhelming evidence shows that youth prisons are harmful, ineffective and excessively expensive. Youth in these facilities are routinely subjected to maltreatment which can exacerbate trauma, limit learning and lead to future recidivism.
The rampant abuses at Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Cooper Lake School for Girls including allegations of sexual assault, use of pepper spray, strangulation and suffocation of youth, as well as destruction of public records, have been widely documented. Last week, on behalf of four Milwaukee teens, the ACLU of Wisconsin and Juvenile Law Center sued state officials for cruel and unusual punishment at these facilities. News also broke of another lawsuit that will be filed against Cooper Lake over neglect by prison officials and a young girl’s subsequent attempted suicide, have increased calls for the closure of these outdated, inhumane facilities.
Last October, YJM released Safer Communities, Stronger Families: Creating a Community-Based Continuum of Services and Supports for Milwaukee’s Adjudicated Youth, which contains a list of recommendations for transforming Milwaukee’s juvenile justice system. YJM also rejects proposals to build a new youth prison in Milwaukee County, which would be a huge step backwards and a gross misuse of public funds.
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.