Vast Majority of Wisconsinites Favor Keeping Youth Out of Prisons

Ianthe Metzger| |202-800-8169

Vast Majority of Wisconsinites Favor Keeping Youth Out of Prisons

New Poll Shows Strong Support for Community-Based Alternatives to Incarceration to Rehabilitate Youth

MILWAUKEEE – A new poll released today shows that 75 percent of Wisconsinites favor keeping young people out of harmful, ineffective prisons like Lincoln Hills and Cooper Lake, and instead prefer community-based alternatives that are proven to lead to better outcomes.

The poll was released by Youth Justice Milwaukee, (YJM), a coalition of community organizations, youth advocates and family members of youth involved in the juvenile justice system that is working to change the unfair and unethical treatment of our most vulnerable young people.

The results show that Wisconsinites from a wide range of backgrounds and all political stripes support shifting the youth justice system’s focus from incarceration and punishment to prevention and rehabilitation. However, recent legislation proposed by the state legislature ignores this clear consensus, and would send youth to Lincoln Hills and Cooper Lake prison facilities for longer periods and for a larger number of offenses.

“Lincoln Hills and Cooper Lake are perfect examples of why youth prisons don’t work,” said Youth Justice Milwaukee’s Jeff Roman. “It’s clear that Wisconsinites know it’s time to change the system. We can do better than traumatizing our kids at these outdated, ineffective facilities. Instead of taking us further down the wrong track, lawmakers should help us invest in rehabilitative, community-based alternatives to incarceration that keep kids out of prison and with their families.”

The survey of over 500 adults found that:

  • 91 percent support treatment and rehabilitation plans that include a youth’s family in planning and services.
  • 86 support providing financial incentives for states and municipalities to invest in alternatives to youth incarceration, such as intensive rehabilitation, education, job training, community services, and programs that provide youth the opportunity to repair harm to victims and communities.
  • 74 percent support requiring states to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in the youth justice system.
  • 70 percent support increasing funding to provide more public defenders to represent children in court.

Respondents cut across partisan affiliations, with 84% of Democrats, 81% of Independents, and 57% of Republicans supporting reform efforts.

The poll comes just three weeks after the ACLU of Wisconsin and the Juvenile Law Center sued state officials for cruel and unusual punishment at the Lincoln Hills and Cooper Lake facilities on behalf of four teenagers. The rampant abuses at these youth prisons, 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. 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.

To view the full poll results, click here.

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