Youth Justice Milwaukee hosts dinner and forum regarding ACT 185

October 4, 2018

Sharlen Moore, co-founder of Youth Justice Milwaukee, addresses a community input forum about youth incarceration reforms approved by Governor Scott Walker and the Wisconsin state legislature in March 2018 during a community meeting at North Division High School on September 18, 2018.

Youth Justice Milwaukee hosted a dinner and forum discussion regarding the passage of ACT 185 and juvenile justice reform which the law is intended to address. About 50 people participated in the forum held 5:30-7:30 p.m. at North Division High School on September 18, 2018.

For years many children suffered trauma and neglect by the Wisconsin Department of Corrections. Now more than two years after abuses at the state’s two youth prisons first became public, Governor Scott Walker and the Wisconsin state legislature passed ACT 185 in March 2018. Among the many provisions in the bill, it will close the Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake youth prisons by January 2021 and implement other reforms designed to replace these institutions with alternatives which Youth Justice Milwaukee hopes will result in better community-based care that provides a restorative and healing environment.

“Closing Lincoln Hill and Copper Lake is a major accomplishment and this meeting is a step in the right direction, but Wisconsin still has a long way to go to bring true justice to communities, especially Milwaukee,” said Sharlen Moore, co-founder of Youth Justice Milwaukee. “It’s important to give young people and impacted community members a seat at the table during discussions that directly affect their families and lives.”

A task force composed of members of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC) was also present to answer questions and solicit community input. Mark Mertens, director of the Division of Youth and Family Services, said the new facilities designed will look more like a residential than an incarceration facility. He also said there would be educational programs on how to get a job, an integrated treatment model designed to control impulsive behavior and a safe, secure environment without isolation and pepper spray. Members of the DOC task force are currently touring similar facilities around the US to help put into place best practices already in use elsewhere. The Milwaukee forum was the fourth held to date.

“Despite the progress we’ve seen, black teens are still 15 times more likely to be incarcerated,” said Jeff Roman, co-founder of Youth Justice Milwaukee. “We cannot separate racial justice from our youth system, which is why it’s essential that Milwaukee communities have a say in how our state restructures the system.”

Following a presentation by the DOC and remarks by Youth Justice Milwaukee members, participants broke up into small groups and worked with a facilitator to address a series of questions. Responses were recorded and will be taken into consideration along with other public comment as the new law is implemented.