Milwaukee group calling for closure of juvenile prisons

NOW: Milwaukee group calling for closure of juvenile prisons

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) – Members of the advocacy group Youth Justice Milwaukee say they feel like no one is addressing the problems that have been under investigation at the Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake facilities.

The group is calling on judges to stop sending young offenders to the prisons. This comes after yet another week of reported violence behind bars.

We’ve seen them unfold just about every day in and around Milwaukee County, young people involved in crimes. Many of them end up getting sent up north to Copper Lake and Lincoln Hills.

“In the absence of leadership from Governor Walker and the Department of Corrections, we’re asking judges and local lawmakers to stop sending Milwaukeeans to these terrible facilities,” says Jeff Roman, member of Youth Justice Milwaukee.

“It’s terrible and I’m not going back,” says Klaranda, a former inmate of Copper Lake.

Klaranda, who only wished to be identified by her first name, spent nine months at Copper Lake.

“From the groups to when we go into solitary confinement, to the staffing and grooming,” says Klaranda.

“When I went hair was matic,” says state senator Lena Taylor. “These children, they looked unkept.”

Leaders and organizers argue that while the facilities are called schools, there isn’t much learning being done. They say teachers rarely show up and when they do, all age groups are crammed into one classroom.

“What’s happening with many of the youths right now, in the large congregate setting, is actually harmful,” says Mark Mertens, head of Milwaukee County Delinquency and Court Services.

Mertens says statistics have shown a 35% decrease in juvenile charges in the county. But for those who do have to serve time, youths do better in smaller settings, closer to home.

“It’s going to take time to develop appropriate resources to assure that can happen,” says Mertens.

“That’s why it’s called the department of corrections and we should make sure that what we do is give the support so we can correct,” explains Taylor. “And if they won’t close the facility then judges and others, don’t send them there!”

Lincoln Hills has been under federal investigation for the past three years. In July, a judge put restrictions on the use of solitary confinement, shackling and pepper spray. Still advocates say not enough has changed.

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