Youth Justice Milwaukee (YJM) released the following statement in response to U.S. District Judge James Peterson’s ruling that the use of solitary confinement, restraints and pepper spray at Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls violates the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.
“Today’s ruling confirms what we already knew – that we need to stop abusing our kids by locking them away in these dangerous facilities that do nothing to help them. While this is a positive step forward, simply reforming the youth prison system facilities is not enough,” said Jeffery Roman, founding member of Youth Justice Milwaukee. “Youth prisons do not work and cannot be reformed, they must be dismantled. We are committed to work with state elected officials on legislation that will more effectively address the needs of vulnerable youth in our communities and will not stop until Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake are closed for good. It’s time bring our kids home and provide them with the resources and opportunities to succeed.”
In February, the ACLU of Wisconsin and the Juvenile Law Center filed suit in federal court against four Wisconsin state officials, including Wisconsin Secretary of Corrections Jon E. Litscher, citing the use of solitary confinement and inhumane conditions for youth in state-run youth prison. In April, the groups filed a request for a preliminary injunction in federal court “to halt the unconstitutional use of solitary confinement and other inhumane conditions and practices for youth in state-run correctional facilities.”
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. A majority of Wisconsinites support focusing on prevention and rehabilitation programs rather than incarceration; recent YJM polling found that 75 percent favor keeping young people out of youth prisons and instead investing in community-based alternatives which give youth the opportunity to repair harm to victims and communities. The rampant abuses at Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Cooper Lake School for Girls have been widely documented, as they remain under investigation by the FBI.
Youth Justice Milwaukee (YJM), a coalition of community organizations, youth advocates and family members of youth involved in the juvenile justice system continues to call on state officials to stop sending Wisconsin’s youth to Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake. To sustain long term behavior change and create a safer community with less victims, fewer youth must be funneled into the prison system and the state must support a range of effective community programs, that offer targeted supervision and services including restorative justice, intensive mentoring, mental health treatment, family therapy, and other interventions.