"We can't just lock them up": Milwaukee Co. Juvenile Judge has no plans for harsher sentences

NOW: “We can’t just lock them up“: Milwaukee Co. Juvenile Judge has no plans for harsher sentences


As juvenile crime continues to dominate Milwaukee-area headlines, many are turning to the courts for answers. 

    "What do we know? We know the police department is doing its part, we need the juvenile justice system to do its," said Chief Flynn in March. 

Flynn is part of a large group calling on the courts to hand down harsher punishments on juveniles who re-offend. 

Judge Joe Donald is the Presiding Judge for Milwaukee County Children's Court. He's in charge of deciding the fates of hundreds of kids every year. 

    "It is very difficult to say with certainty whether any particular penalty is going to stop a kid from re-offending," he says. "It's a matter of putting the right kids, in the right situation, for the right length of time." 

Judge Donald says sending juveniles to places like Lincoln Hills remains a final resort. 

    "If we do that, as a system, we have failed," he says. "Simply locking them up, in my opinion, is not a solution." 

Donald is now calling on the state to close Lincoln Hills, and open a handful of smaller facilities located across the state. 

    "The research is that smaller institutions, smaller facilities, are actually more effective," he says. 

Donald estimates the state spends well over $100,000 on each juvenile he commits to Lincoln Hills.

    "We spend an inordinate amount of money, and our outcomes are not very good." 

Judge Donald says the majority of the juveniles he sees are first-time offenders, and that the end-all goal is for them to learn from their mistakes, and lead productive lives. 

    "It's a tough process. These are our kids. We need to start demanding that we have better outcomes." 

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