Advocates For Youth Prison Reform Say Wisconsin Can Look To Other States For Success

Feb 14, 2020

The Wisconsin prison system is facing a lot of challenges for both adults and young people. Wisconsin is second in the country for racial disparity among African Americans and whites who are in prison. The ratio is 11.5 African Americans to one white prisoner in the state, according to census data gathered by the Sentencing Project.

"It should ring alarm bells — Wisconsin incarcerates the most black and brown people in the country. If that doesn’t strike people as alarming, I don’t know what is," says Sharlen Moore, founder of Youth Justice Milwaukee.

Earlier this week there was a major setback in closing Wisconsin's troubled youth prison. A legislative committee rejected a plan to build new institutions to replace Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake in Irma. Lincoln Hills has been plagued for years by allegations of guard-on-prisoner abuse.

READ: Wisconsin Lawmakers Scrap Plan For New Youth Prisons

Lawmakers in 2018 passed a bill that would close the prison by January 2021 and replace it with new juvenile state prisons and smaller county-run detention centers. That deadline was later pushed back to July 2021. But a lack of funding has hampered the transition and the complete closure of the facility is now in question.

The League of Women Voters held a panel in Milwaukee recently to discuss prison reform. On that panel was Moore and Gretchen Schult, the executive director of Wisconsin Justice Initiative. They point to other state's models for reducing recidivism and improving rehabilitation.

They spoke with WUWM's Olivia Richardson about some of the types of reform they're advocating and pushing for when it comes to adults and young people in prison.