The Problem with Wisconsin’s Juvenile Justice System

The Problem with Wisconsin’s Juvenile Justice System

  • Wisconsin’s juvenile justice system is excessively punitive and insufficiently focused on rehabilitative alternatives to incarceration.
  • Despite the vast body of research on the harmful effects of youth incarceration, Wisconsin continues to rely heavily on its two youth prisons, Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake.
  • Both facilities are under investigation by state and federal officials for sexual abuse of youth; the use of pepper spray, strangulation and suffocation on youth; intimidation of youth to discourage reporting; and tampering with state and county laws concerning youth institutions.
  • Wisconsin’s juvenile justice system costs $162,800,000, including $30 million for the operation of the state’s juvenile correctional facilities, and $88.6 million provided to counties through the youth aids program. In 2013, the cost to incarcerate one youth at Lincoln Hills or Copper Lake surpassed $100,000.
  • In the wake of the abuse scandals, Milwaukee County officials have called for the removal of Milwaukee youth from Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake, but consensus has not been reached on next steps.
  • The county is considering a number of options, including repurposing or building another institutional setting closer to home, but instead, funds currently used to pay for correctional placements at Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake, should be redirected to build and improve existing alternatives to incarceration that are more effective and less costly than incarceration.
  • Currently, Milwaukee County receives roughly $35 million per year for residential and treatment-based placements, as well as community-based programs that allow children to remain in their homes.

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