Governor Doyle released his initiative to study incarceration rates of juveniles in Wisconsin yesterday, however, very little has been made of the actual study that prompted his revelation.
The study by the NCCD-CRC shows Wisconsin as having by far the worst juvenile justice system in the country! Couple this with Milwaukee having one of the worst educational systems in the country and we begin to see a pattern emerge.
Table 9 of the study details the rates of incarerations among juveniles in the US by state.
In Wisconsin, we have the highest rate of incarceration by huge margins of youth of color in the entire country, while white youth are incarcerated:
Per 100,000 youth in Wisconsin, we incarcerate:
African American 154.6
Native American 109.6
Asian and Pacific Islander 16.4
US Averages are:
African American 44.1
Native American 9.2
Asian and Pacific Islander 2.5
These numbers are mortifying! The problem is they are NOT just numbers. These are our children and the numbers reflect on us as a community.
I will write on each of these issues in some more detail in the next few months, but I want to quickly list the immediate things that jump out at me as to the reasons we are SO out of whack with the rest of the country.
1) It's too easy and too many children are being waived to adult court. We need to discuss this in great detail, but the bottom line is juvenile court is a separate court because children have entirely different capacities and need special attention to head off recidivism.
2) Too many children are placed in adult institutions. The reason given is to protect the children in juvenile facilities, but children in adult prisons are a recipe for disaster.
3) We are not teaching enough youth (particularly poor and minority youth) to read. I've covered this in some detail before, but I have much more to say on this issue.
4) We are the largest city in the country to NOT have a teen court system. Google it. Generally peer based justice with adult supervision, the idea is to head off first and second time offenders of non-violent crimes before they become violent offenders. The ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation has a pilot program in the public school system that's been very successful, but it is limited in it's reach.
5) This goes with 4, in Wisconsin we have six times the National average of incarcerations of youth for disorderly conduct violations (it's common practice in Milwaukee for a principal to call the police and ask them to issue a disorderly conduct ticket for running in the hallway). These are often minor fights that are up-charged by the system to more severe charges.
6) Truth in Sentencing. This would take me an hour to dissect, but suffice it to say that it is the bane of our criminal justice system.
7) We have almost NO reentry program in the state specifically for juveniles. This is criminal on our part. Take a child out of the home, put them in a confined environment, and then release them without any support to get their lives back on track.
Wake up Wisconsin!!! I have so much more to say on this issue and no time today to say it, but I will say that the Governor's task force had better move quickly and actually accomplish something. We can't afford to lose another generation!