Close Youth Prisons Part 2: the wrong way

This is the second in a three-part series about closing the illegal youth prisons in Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake (LH/CL). Part one outlined the best and fastest way to close these prisons: by eliminating the Serious Juvenile Offender Program (SJOP) and adult sentencing of youths. These bad laws were inspired by the racist “superpredator” myth which requires the state to lock some kids in extra harmful “type 1” facilities. In part two, we’re going to examine why that didn’t happen, and the foolishness that happened instead. 

Back in 2017, the democrats didn’t have the governor’s seat, so eliminating SJOP and ending the racist child abuse practices at LH/CL as quickly and thoroughly as possible was further out of reach than it is today. Instead, Wisconsin politicians worked out a terrible and paradoxical compromise that became WI act 185. This is the law that generated a bunch of headlines about closing LH/CL without actually doing so. Act 185 was never intended to fully close LH/CL, but to convert the prisons into a single adult facility and replace them with new type 1 prisons and “secure residential care centers” for youths. 

It was described as a prison closure bill, when in reality, it was a prison construction bill. That’s right. When faced with the stark reality of dead and abused kids in its youth prisons, Wisconsin responded by trying to build more youth prisons

How did such a grotesque absurdity come to pass? Well, it’s a convoluted story, but the core of it is sadly familiar to anyone following amerikan politics on any level. The republicans doubled down and dug in, until popular outrage broke their resolve, and forced them to bargain. Then the democrats took over negotiations and compromised. The fight over youth prisons is especially ironic, because, at this point, democrats are clinging desperately to the compromise neither their allies, nor their opponents really believed in. The mediators are more committed to the deal they mediated than the parties they were mediating between. 

The deepening crisis

Amidst all the momentum and outrage, the investigations, and raids of the facility, representative Chris Taylor (d-Madison) introduced a bill that would simply close the youth prisons in one year, requiring the DOC to figure out it’s own mess. Taylor, who was later appointed to be a judge, argued that the DOC knew for years about the abusive practices: “these juveniles have been systematically abused and neglected,” she said, they “have had their constitutional rights violated time and again… It is time to take action.” 

She was right, but this bill had little chance in the republican-controlled legislature. 

In 2017, the DOC was reeling from the scandal behind LH/CL. This was probably the largest, most devastating legitimacy crisis Wisconsin’s prison system has seen. Many staff were fired, put on paid leave, or quit, including the top staff trainer, and the chief psychologist who was caught in multiple sexually inappropriate situations with young women. In January of 2016, top brass at the institution abruptly resigned. A month later, even the  DOC secretary Ed Wall, Wisconsin’s prison boss, who had tried to back them up, followed.

Ed Wall looks kinda nervous, even in his official government photo.

Throughout this disaster, republicans tried to run cover for the racist staff and DOC administration. AFSCME, the union that betrays Wisconsin’s working class for blood money from prison guards, teamed up with them. They launched a media campaign, putting out press releases and doing interviews to villainize and dehumanize Black youths from Milwaukee. They denounced and organized against representative Taylor’s closure bill. 

Meanwhile, the youths at the prison fought for liberation. Between July and November of 2017, there were numerous incidents of youth fighting with staff. On August 3, some of the youths held at Lincoln Hills climbed onto the roof of one building. There, they threw rocks and pipes at guards, did backflips, and demanded pizza. These rebellious activities effectively deterred people from working at the prison, deepening the crisis. By November, 67 of the 313 jobs were unfilled, and 26 other workers were on leave, many due to injuries.  

In response to this burgeoning conflict, representative Evan Goyke (d- Sherman Park), a former public defender from Milwaukee’s west side, leapt to action. He reached across the aisle, and offered the racists and the child abusers a better deal to bring them to the table. In the end, his bill prioritized the needs of the DOC staff and republican lawmakers over the needs of the kids and their communities. 

Closer to home

To bring AFSCME and DOC officials on board, Goyke’s bill needed to let them dodge further accountability, to protect their jobs, and to protect prison funding and budgets. Building new prisons in or near Milwaukee county solved all three of these issues. Of course, Goyke and his new friends also had to sell outraged community members and liberals on this scheme. They did so by adopting talking points from the Council of State Governments about building facilities “closer to home”. 

The closer to home theory is reasonable, but overstated. Obviously, the more than 3 hour drive from Milwaukee to LH/CL made family visitation more difficult and infrequent. Lack of connection with family is a harm to incarcerated people in general, but even more so to children. Still, the fundamental problem was not a shortage of family visits. The fundamental problem was staff abusing the children they held captive. “Closer to home” pulled the conversation away from the aforementioned abuse and accountability and toward building new prisons. New prisons, wherever they’re built, would mean more and better jobs for abusers, not an end to abuse. 

Wisconsin’s new prison boss, Kevin Carr really seized on the closer to home narrative. He once told the Wisconsin Examiner that “geographical location is the problem […] we don’t have the resources […] the right staff [or] cultural diversity [emphasis added].” For Carr, it sounds like the problem is not putting kids in cages, is not the outdated superpredator laws, is not the systemic racism with deep cultural roots in Wisconsin. The problem is just this unfortunate budget cut back in 2011, when the youth prisons in southeast Wisconsin were closed and kids transferred up north.  

Kevin Carr makes excuses.

The “closer to home” argument generally worked on liberals and moderates, but failed to convince many Milwaukee residents who have direct experience with the system. Some remembered Ethan Allen, a youth prison located in nearby Waukesha county, which closed in 2011. Abuse occurred there, but was not as well-documented at that time. 

There is also the Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility (MSDF), a massive prison for adults in downtown Milwaukee. It’s mostly staffed by Milwaukee residents who have as much “cultural diversity” as staff at the proposed “closer to home” youth prison might have. MSDF is a horror. At least 18 people died there since it opened in 2001. Guards at MSDF routinely abuse and neglect their captives. 

Being closer to home doesn’t make prisons safe for kids. Prisons are cages, and cages are never safe for kids.

By seizing on this narrative to sell his bill, Goyke gave the DOC a scapegoat for its dysfunction, a solution to its legitimacy crisis, but that isn’t the only way the new plan benefited the DOC and AFSCME. Building new prisons expands the DOC’s budget and footprint. Bureaucracies have an institutional incentive and tendency to expand, and prisons are no different. The new jobs would also mean more member dues for AFSCME, that is: more blood money. Goyke had found ways to bring the DOC and AFSCME on board, but he also needed republican support. 

Winning over racists

Some Wisconsin republicans seem to build their entire careers on villainizing Black kids from Milwaukee. They treat the childish and racist commentary of talk radio personalities like Mark Belling as gospel, and they have for many years. This deeply white supremacist ideology helps explain why their initial response to the DOC’s child abuse scandal was to try to hurt more kids.

In May of 2017, while lawsuits and investigators were uncovering the worst abuses at LH/CL, representative Joe Sanfelippo (r- New Berlin) and Leah Vukmir (r-Brookfield) proposed two bills that would increase the youth prison population. Sanfelippo and Vukmir’s districts are gerrymandered to cross county lines and disenfranchise moderate voters in West Allis and Wauwatosa. This goes against the state constitution, but republicans care about power, not the rule of law. 

Leah Vukmir and Joe Sanfelippo try to hurt more kids.

The first of the Vukmir/Sanfelippo bills removed a three-year limit on the amount of time youths could serve at these prisons under the SJOP. The second would’ve expanded the list of convictions that could get a kid sent there. Sanfelippo described sentencing more kids for longer time in a prison that abuses and drives them to suicide as “tough love”. 

Republicans lined up behind these atrocious bills. They passed both the senate and assembly committees on party lines. Governor Scott Walker signed the one removing sentence limits in the spring of 2018. The second did not go forward, likely due to the growing instability and lack of staffing at LH/CL. 

Then politics intervened. There was a governor’s election coming up in the fall, and eventually, Walker realized that ignoring, enabling, and increasing child abuse by prison guards would not play well in the race. He came to see the bill Goyke was offering as an opportunity to make the issue go away, and so he stole the ideas and rebranded it as a republican-led effort. 

Even then, assembly speaker Robin Vos, (who gerrymandered his own district to split the city of Burlington and disenfranchise moderate voters from Racine) threatened delays. Finally, governor Walker had to publicly push Vos to make it happen. Like any chastised cult leader, Vos promptly whipped his drones into shape. They did a complete about-face and fast-tracked the imitation of Goyke’s bill, passing it with unanimous support. After some more childish squabbling, it also passed the senate. On March 30, 2018, governor Walker was able to redeem his election campaign by filling the news cycle with misleading headlines that credited him with closing Lincoln Hills.  

Then they left the prisons open

Of course, this compromise, like everything Robin Vos touches, was always based on angling for partisan advantage, not doing what’s right or necessary. When Tony Evers beat Scott Walker despite the misleading campaign boost, speaker Vos and other republicans did what everyone should have predicted they would do. They stalled, sabotaged, and effectively killed the plan to close these prisons.

Robin Vos throws tantrums.

All of the problems delaying implementation of act 185 come from trying to build new prisons. Within Tony Evers’ first month in office he began backsliding. He said that there was not enough money or local support for building replacement facilities. Advocates from YJM, the ACLU, and NAACP, many of whom had always opposed the idea of building more prisons, urged the governor to not allow any delay. Governor Evers didn’t listen, and representative Goyke made excuses. Those excuses seemed to work. 

Goyke told reporters that the act 185 plan, which everyone praised at the time, was actually rushed and underfunded. Advocates did not disagree. It is baffling that, back in 2018, every democrat joined the republicans in voting for a bill that would help governor Walker electorally without actually doing what it was intended to do—close youth prisons. It seems like they were so excited to see any compromise from republicans that they didn’t worry enough about the actual result. Of course, AFSCME and the DOC were pushing support for act 185 as well. Maybe the democrats’ goal wasn’t to sweep the child abuse practices back under the rug, but that was the result of their actions. 

Then, during a 2019 joint finance hearing republicans voted on party lines to not fix the funding shortage. Republican senator Alberta Darling (whose gerrymandered district also violates the state constitution by crossing county lines to disenfranchise Milwaukee voters) used Goyke’s “closer to home” argument to muddy the waters even while she worked to defund Goyke’s plan. “These offenders,” she said, “need to be closer to home so there could be people to visit them […] we’re not talking about forgetting these children, or these offenders.” 

Notice how Darling shifted her language from “children” to “offenders”? That’s because other members of her caucus had been loudly objecting to identifying the children as children, insisting on the dehumanizing slur “offender” or even the racially coded “young thugs.” 

Worse still, they went back to passing laws that would increase the number of kids subject to abuse at LH/CL. Their 2019 “tougher on crime” package included AB 806, which reprised the Vukmir and Sanfelippo bill to expand convictions qualifying a youth for incarceration under the SJOP program. Only three republicans broke with their party to vote against it, even though (or perhaps because) they knew governor Evers would veto it.

Meanwhile, no one wanted new youth prisons built in their communities. Many of these objections came from scared white people and conservatives, but people whose families and youth are targeted by the prison system also refused. When building sites around Milwaukee county were proposed, residents packed public meetings and ultimately stopped the prisons being built. 

Banners hung at one of the proposed sites after the public meeting denouncing plans to build new youth prisons. March, 2019.

A dead law. 

Act 185 is dead. It was a bad idea and it died. Goyke’s compromise depended on good faith partnership with legislative republicans, who are bad faith people. Building new prisons was also always an expensive and nonsensical response to child abuse by prison guards. Milwaukee’s youth advocates and Wisconsin’s republican racists are aligned in opposition to Goyke and Evers’ proposal. That’s probably a good sign that it’s a bad plan. 

Of course, the republican racists also oppose the real solution: eliminating Wisconsin’s superpredator law. They seem content with simply letting the stalemate between youth and staff at LH/CL continue until the public stops paying attention and the guards are allowed to go back to beating and killing kids. 

Instead, governor Evers could get LH/CL emptied out by issuing SJOP and youth pardons, as described in the first article of this series. Faced with a choice between an unpopular and failed compromise with republicans versus protecting Black kids from torture, Evers keeps trying to choose compromise and republicans keep refusing him.

It’s clear Tony Evers would rather not think about prison. We’ve caught him demonstrating a profound lack of knowledge or interest in his own DOC. So he makes representative Goyke do the bulk of the work. Like Dr Frankenstein and his assistant, Evers and Goyke keep trying to revive the corpse of act 185. They’re trying to pump millions of dollars into it, as though increasing the price tag will somehow make the deal sweeter. 

For the 2021 budget cycle, Evers proposed $46 million for a new youth prison in or near Milwaukee. Republicans blocked it. On Tuesday, June 8, 2021, representative Goyke again trotted out the corpse of act 185 before the Joint Finance Committee (JFC). Republican committee members subjected it to ridicule and buried it again. 

It would not be accurate to portray Evan Goyke as someone who doesn’t care about, or fight for, prison reform. His office responds better than any other to requests for information or for help checking on an incarcerated person in crisis. If anything, Goyke is too committed to an overly narrow understanding of his role as an elected official. 

When I talked with him for this article, he said, “my job is literally to keep working and trying and pushing, and I have not given up on this legislative session.” While it is true that his job includes drafting legislation and hammering out compromises to get it passed, that is not the entirety of his job. As an elected representative, his job, and the job of every democrat, especially those from Milwaukee, is also to represent and serve the people of his district. That includes protecting them from state violence and intrusion. 

Evan Goyke tries so hard.

The best way to do that, in the case of abusive youth prisons, is eliminating superpredator laws. Rather than putting energy into redeeming a hopeless compromise like act 185, the democrats should be centering public conversations on the superpredator myth and the state’s capture, abuse, and killing of racially targeted children. 

The basic facts about abuse at LH/CL, are damning, as is the republican party’s conduct in the face of those facts. It exposes their overt, bloody racism. Yet, however gerrymandered the state may be, republicans cannot win on the votes of open white supremacists alone. Wisconsin came closest to closing the youth prisons when republicans were unable to escape public outrage about their efforts to maintain and exacerbate the situation. The best way to resume that public conversation is for Evers to issue pardons, forcing republicans to expose the vileness of their position by fighting to put the kids back in danger. 

But the democrats shrink away. They always love talking about things they cannot do, like allocate money. Failing to galvanize the new youth prisons corpse may be the actual goal. Talking about what they can’t do helps voters think they are trying, but powerless. It’s one way they trick people into voting for and donating to their party. It’s also a lie. Governor Evers has many options he chooses not to use. 

Fortunately, he’s not the only hope

Outside all the political compromises and self-interested maneuvering, there are people who prioritize the health and safety of Milwaukee’s youth. Advocates and family members have been demanding a faster closure plan from the start, one that funded actual public safety and youth support, rather than new prisons. When legislative democrats abandoned them to win over opponents, these organizers found other ways to pursue their goals.  

Sharlen Moore fights to close youth prisons.

I spoke with Sharlen Moore for this article. As the co-founder of Urban Underground and an organizer with Youth Justice Milwaukee (YJM), she’s been at the forefront of efforts to close LH/CL without building new youth prisons. “We squashed that idea,” she said. “You’re increasing the footprint of corrections and we need to decrease it.” Rather than negotiating toxic compromises with racist legislative leadership, Moore and her allies focused on local officials, people who are accountable to Milwaukee, not to the nightmarish fantasies of talk radio hosts. Those officials began to empty out LH/CL one youth at a time. This approach has been startlingly successful. 

Wisconsin’s youth prisons have a total design capacity of 603; 519 for kids classified as male at Lincoln Hills and 29 for those classified as female at Copper Lake, and 55 at other facilities. When the criminal investigation began in January 2015, there were 309 kids in Wisconsin prisons, 243 at Lincoln Hills, 34 at Copper Lake, and 32 at other facilities. By February 2021, the population was down to 72, with 52 at Lincoln Hills and 5 at Copper Lake. 

That’s when Mark Mertens, administrator of Milwaukee county’s division of youth and family services told the Neighborhood News Service (NNS) that he was “hoping that the closing of Lincoln Hills is a moot point for us by the end of 2021.”

Mertens is a member of Youth Correctional Leaders for Justice, a national organization of current and former youth justice agencies that aims “to facilitate community-centered justice, in which archaic, distant youth prisons are closed and communities have the resources to address the needs of youth.” He’s someone who actually wants to close youth prisons, not negotiate with racist republicans to build new ones. 

Mertens has worked to expand Milwaukee county restorative justice and accountability programs, which send troubled kids to less harmful facilities, and the credible messenger program which connects them with mentors. These processes should not be an end-goal for abolitionists, but they can provide harm reduction. 

Even as harm reduction, they do not always succeed.  In Racine county, judges recognized problems at LH/CL well in advance of Milwaukee county, and started a similar process all the way back in 2003. They diverted kids to other, local Racine facilities, where guards abuse them. In December, 2017, guards at Racine County Juvenile Detention Center drove Maricella Chairez to suicide. They locked her in solitary confinement for yelling at someone, even though she had attempted suicide there nine days before. She died by suicide that night. Maricella spent 41 days in the facility that killed her waiting for space to open at another, supposedly better facility.

Mark Mertens (tan suit) works to divert youth prison sentences.

Efforts to divert kids from incarceration entirely are under-resourced and insufficient. Restorative justice operated by the existent criminal legal system is often not restorative justice, but co-optation, piling on punishment, and net-widening. A talking circle inside a carceral setting or under the looming threat of punishment cannot truly restore or heal. However, these programs are at least less likely than prison to drive a kid to suicide. Mertens is engaged in harm reduction pending a full overhaul, ideally of not only Milwaukee’s criminal legal system, but our entire political economy. More on that in part three. 

According to Mertens, only 22 of the remaining kids at LH/CL were from Milwaukee as of February. That’s right. Evers and Goyke are putting all this energy into spending $46 million on a youth prison in or near Milwaukee for only 22 kids. They would spend more than $2 million per kid to build this prison. 

The proposed prison’s capacity would be 36, so they’ll either be looking to capture another 14 Milwaukee kids to fill it out,up, or bringing kids from other cities down here. Even then, it would still be cheaper to make each of those children a fucking millionaire. And studies show that very few millionaires go to prison – ever. Meanwhile, sending poor kids to prison once tends to mean sending them back a few years later. According to even the federal department of justice, fully three-quarters of incarcerated kids return to prison after release. 

If and when Evers and Goyke’s prison is built, the state will spend another $7.7 million per year (about $214,000 per kid if filled to max) maintaining it. Do they really think that $214,000 per year is not enough to just pay a kid to stop doing crime? 

We’re talking about that old, dead plan again aren’t we? The more we look at it, the stupider it becomes. Unfortunately, the politicians won’t leave it alone. 

Reviving the corpse 

Currently, Goyke is back to pleading with the legislature. The assembly prison committee chair is Michael Schraa (r-Oshkosh), whose district is gerrymandered to include 5,583 prison captives who cannot vote. The map-drawers effectively used these captives to boost the electoral power and funding allocations of the district’s free residents in a grotesque move reminiscent of the US constitution’s racist 3/5ths compromise

Michael Schraa relies on counting incarcerated people (who cannot vote) to make his district map.

With all these prisons in his district, Schraa does seem to have a more grounded understanding of Wisconsin’s prison crisis than republican leadership. Republicans from Milwaukee, Racine, and Kenosha’s suburbs seem to prioritize constituents who are wealthy professionals, corporate managers, and business owners. I’m talking about the kind of people whose favorite past-time is listening to Mark Belling while trembling in irrational fear of Black youth. Meanwhile, Schraa represents more working class people, including people who work in prisons and hate their jobs. 

That might be why Goyke can sometimes convince him to break from his party and give reform bills a committee hearing. At any rate, on July 26, Schraa sent out a draft bill to rustle up support for reviving the dead youth prison plan with a reduced price tag of $42 million. The more out-of-touch and Belling-indoctrinated members of Schraa’s party often ignore these overtures. But with elections coming up next year and the spectre of the massive scandal at LH/CL looming in the shadows, some are getting on board. Schraa’s draft bill was read into the record in September and assigned number AB 524. So far, it has 34 sponsors, including 13 republicans. 

One of the republicans who supports building a youth prison in Milwaukee county is senator Mary Felzkowski (r-Irma) who represents the district where LH/CL is located and is a member of the Joint Finance Committee. In April 2021, Felzkowski invited staff at LH/CL to testify at the JFC hearing at the Hodag Dome in Rhinelander. They pleaded with the committee to stop sending kids there and convert it to an adult facility. 

These small-town, up north guards do not want to be responsible for raising some of Milwaukee’s most troubled youth. That’s understandable. The people of Milwaukee certainly don’t want them doing it either. Indeed, polls and elections indicate that a majority of people statewide agree with sending fewer kids to prison. The people of Lincoln county do want jobs, and since there are no Wisconsin politicians who take significant actions or raise the alarm when DOC staff abuse adults and drive them to suicide, an adult facility at LH/CL is more attractive. 

If northern Wisconsin politicians like senator Felzkowski were better, they would fight and create opportunities for their constituents that didn’t require doing the dirty work of the white supremacist state. Unfortunately, Wisconsin is not run by majority rule. It is run by the bureaucratic shenanigans of narrow-minded party operatives and the wealthy corporations and business owners they serve. Felzkowski voted with the party line on every prison-related JFC vote, ensuring that her constituents will continue dealing with the stigma (and hopefully emotional hardship) of being the white people paid to confine, beat, and kill disproportionately Black and indigenous kids in these prisons. 

Mary Felzkowski votes against her conscience and her constituents’ interests.

While senator Felzkowski does this disservice to the people of her district, the democrats are working on getting around objections from their own constituents. Evers and Goyke need to get their carceral aspirations past the people of Milwaukee, who clearly do not want county land going to new prisons. To this end, the strategy has shifted to building the unwanted thing on land the DOC already owns: the Felmers O Chaney center, on 30th st and Fond Du Lac ave. 

When I talked to Goyke for this article, one of the alternatives I asked him to discuss was reducing the adult population to empty out a minimum security prison closer to Milwaukee, and convert it to a facility that satisfied the type-1 youth requirements. He said the idea was worth exploring, but that the Chaney center would be an unfortunate choice. “We need to transition to having more re-entry, pre-release type, better integrated facilities like Felmers,” he said. “Yes, I want to reduce the adult capacity, but I want to make sure we keep programs and facilities that work, and many people who’ve been through Felmers Chaney say it’s a good one.”  

Goyke is not alone in defending the Chaney center. Last month, three experienced prison reform organizers wrote an op-ed for NNS that asserted LH/CL must close as soon as possible, but not at the expense of successful adult re-entry. “The Chaney center,” they wrote, “has long been considered by men who resided there to offer the best support for a successful return to Milwaukee in contrast to the state’s other facilities. To remove it in order to provide a safer and improved environment for incarcerated children is a ridiculous trade-off, and one for which there are many other alternatives.”

The first sentence of their piece mentioned “a conversation about closing and demolishing” the Chaney center. They didn’t explain who was having that conversation, or where, but it certainly is not happening anywhere that public input is welcome. The op-ed also didn’t explain why the Chaney center would need to be torn down, and replaced with a more than $40 million new prison, rather than converted at surely lower costs. Most importantly, they joined the democrats in shying away from the SJOP and Wisconsin’s racist youth sentencing laws. Doing so limited their argument to a poor compromise framework that ultimately prioritizes the DOC and the abusive guards over the needs of Milwaukee’s youth. 

This unquestioning focus on new prisons will also delay the closure of LH/CL. Goyke told me that, if AB 524 passes during this fall session, construction would take 18 months to 3 years, depending on the difficulty of selecting a site. That timeline is optimistic. Regarding bill passage, remember, Robin Vos tried to delay act 185 when doing so would greatly benefit Scott Walker, the leader of his party. Why would he hurry along a replacement bill now? Regarding site selection, the conversations seem to be happening behind closed doors. Once they have a public hearing, local opposition to new youth prisons will rise again.

In other words, his false solution that Evers and Goyke are pursuing, in addition to being very expensive and unlikely to work, will also take years to implement. 

Letting opportunity pass

Instead of wasting time and money on a bad compromise with unreliable republicans, governor Evers could use his pardon power to definitively end child abuse in state prisons next week. All he has to do is issue commutations or reprieves, removing every kid from the abusive prisons up north. If he’s worried about thrusting unstable kids who’ve experienced and committed traumatic acts of violence directly on to the streets, he can focus those reprieves on just the part of the sentence that requires a type-1 lock up. That will return them to local county jurisdictions. In Milwaukee, that means Mark Merten’s office. 

Mertens’ “make closure a moot point” approach was on track through August, but in recent months governor Evers, prison boss Kevin Carr, and Wisconsin’s judges, cops, and prosecutors have moved the population numbers in the opposite direction. As of October 8, the total youth population is up to 93; 31 are at the Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center and the Grow Academy, which are not ideal places for children, but they are better than LH/CL. That leaves 62 pardons for Evers to issue, 50 youth classified male at Lincoln Hills, and 12 classified female at Copper Lake. 

Many county facilities are already overcrowded, so some kids currently held there will need to be released to supportive communities to make room for those getting out of LH/CL. Those kids will need community support. Fortunately, Wisconsin is flush with federal money from the recovery act (ARPA), which can be invested into that project.

On October 13, governor Evers held a news conference in Milwaukee about allocating $45 million of those dollars to violence prevention. As is often the case with Evers, that commitment is only headline-deep. More than half of the money isn’t going to violence prevention at all, and of the remainder, only $6.6 is earmarked for Milwaukee. That money will go to the office of violence prevention (OVP).

OVP is part of the city government that works with MPD. They perpetrate and produce violence in the communities they target. I can’t get into the details of OVP’s approach, or the political needle that OVP needs to thread to enable the work they try to do. Abolitionists need to be pragmatic enough to recognize that OVP is better than MPD. At the same time, we need OVP to be pragmatic enough to recognize that violence prevention cannot be the sole purview of one office, especially one constrained by needing to cooperate with MPD. It’s time to invest in more community-based alternatives and direct support. 

Part 3 in this series will explore some of those alternatives, and the best way to get them what they need.

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