|Finding Alternatives to Jailing our Children
The decision to build a juvenile facility in Milwaukee’s 1st District is wrong on so many levels. Three white guys made the decision without
the input of residents. It’ll cost taxpayers millions of dollars. Wisconsin still has a big problem with the disproportionate number of Black
children and youth being detained and confined.
There were no neighborhood meetings to inform residents of the 1st Ward that such a facility was coming their way. In 2019, you’d think
government officials would be clear on concepts of transparency and community engagement. These are routine and reasonable mandates
that often avoid resentful citizens, stalled projects and lawsuits.
Governor Tony Evers, County Executive Chris Abele and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (all white males) saw no need to even inform
Alderman Ashanti Hamilton of the plans. I doubt if a white alder would’ve experienced a similar dismissive action. It was a racist slap in the
face of Hamilton who ought to know a thing or two about the plight of Black males. He’s the founder of Be the Change, an organization that
focuses on positive development of youth placed in risk.
by Jamala Rogers
The new youth lock-up is supposed to replace Lincoln Hills and Copper
Lake kiddie prisons. It will cost about $41 million and be included in the
governor’s line-item budget of $194 millions for the facility plus health
services. I’m all for mental health programs but these vital services need
to come to youth and their families much earlier. This is not the best use
of taxpayer dollars.
Hill and Lake facilities have been plagued with inhumane conditions,
undergone investigations and subject to several lawsuits. Nearly $20
million was paid out for a suicide attempt by a desperate teen.
Tactics such as the use of pepper spray and solitary confinement have no
place in a government-run program responsible for protecting vulnerable
minds and bodies. A shiny, new building and rolling hills won’t address the
issue of abusive guards and punitive policies.
In 2017, Black youth made up a mere 10 percent of Wisconsin’s youth
population while they were a whopping 70 percent of those confined to
the state’s juvenile correctional facilities. The state could put some of the
dollars towards a plan to not just deal with this racist disparity but also to
end the imprisonment of children.
Like adult crime, youth crime rates have been going down for the last few
decades. Yet for Black citizens suspected or guilty of offenses, cages and
bars are still seen as the only alternative. Investment in school and
community-based programs that advance the positive health and well-
being of children and youth are critical.
It costs $140,000 to incarcerate a youth in Wisconsin. I can think of a lot
of ways to spend that money efficiently and effectively. I bet you can too.