Testimony of ACLU of Wisconsin
In Opposition to Senate Bills 52, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59
Senate Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety
Chair Van Wanggaard and Members of the Committee:
Thank you for the opportunity to provide testimony relating to Senate Bills 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, and 59. The State of Wisconsin treats youthful offenders in ways that are contrary to the recommendations of juvenile justice experts, that have been abandoned as counterproductive by many states, and that violate constitutional norms. The ACLU of Wisconsin is especially concerned about broadening the scope of violations for which children can be sent to Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake schools, particularly when the unlawful treatment of young people in those places has not been resolved. We believe children should be held accountable for misbehavior, but the punishment meted out at Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake is simply too harsh and undermines the rehabilitative purpose of the juvenile system.
Expanding the Serious Juvenile Offender Program (SJOP) through bills 52 and 59 will place more young people in harm’s way. The State should be examining alternative solutions to get young people to change their behavior and make better decisions, particularly because Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake have utterly failed in rehabilitating the youth sent there – the three-year recidivism outcomes released by the Department of Corrections show that over 60% reoffend.
Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake are supposed to be places where young people who have made past mistakes learn to overcome them and become productive members of society. Instead, they traumatize the children and deprive them of access to their families and other positive relationships and activities that can help. We should not be increasing the number of young people sent there.
Increasing penalties for crimes and imposing mandatory minimum sentences (SBs 54, 55, 56, 58) will do nothing to help individuals learn how to make better decisions or improve their lives going forward. These punitive measures are ineffective and enormously expensive. Rather than locking people up longer, let’s invest that money in a strategy that improves outcomes for the community in the long term.