Closer Look: Youth Justice Activist On Prison Lawsuits

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Premiere Date: 
March 17, 2017

Closer Look: Youth Justice Activist On Prison Lawsuits

Jeffery Roman is a member of Youth Justice Milwaukee, is holding a summit on juvenile justice issues next week. He and others are calling to have the two youth prison facilities under investigation shut down. Former and current inmates involved in the suit claim as much as 20 percent of the inmates are in solitary confinement at any given time, along with other common instances of mistreatment.

Episode Transcript

Frederica Freyberg:

The ACLU lawsuit calls to end the use of solitary confinement, restraints and pepper spray on juvenile at the detention facilities. Others want to close down Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake altogether. Among them, Jeffery Roman, with an organization called Youth Justice Milwaukee, which is holding a summit on juvenile justice issues next week. He joins us from Milwaukee and thanks very much for being here.

Jeffery Roman:

Thanks for having me.

Frederica Freyberg:

Wisconsin’s Corrections Secretary says he cares deeply about the young people at these facilities and is working to fix the problems there. What is your response to the work that has been done on the part of the state to address concerns?

Jeffery Roman:

Sure. While we thank Secretary Litscher for the work he's putting forward to curb some of the things that are happening at Lincoln Hills. Youth Justice Milwaukee believes that those are short-term solutions and you can't put -- you can't piecemeal solutions or put band-aids over problems that need to be fundamentally changed. So our juvenile justice system needs to fundamentally change and be changed from the top down. We believe that it's an outdated, punitive, discriminatory system for our young people. And to the extent that we can, we want to make sure that we are working with the state, Secretary Litscher, our partners at the county and community to make sure we are putting together alternatives so we don't have to send young people to Lincoln Hills.

Frederica Freyberg:

In fact, you would like those facilities to be shut down?

Jeffery Roman:

Absolutely. Yeah. Our long-term goal of Youth Justice Milwaukee is to close Lincoln Hills and Copper Lakes because again we believe they are outdated systems that are punitive versus rehabilitative for young people. However, we believe we can't just close them overnight. We understand that there are things politically, socially things that are happening that will prevent us from overnight closing Lincoln Hills and Copper Lakes. However, we can begin to start having critical conversations about what needs to be in place instead of sending young people to being incarcerated. So we are actively working with our county and partners to begin to reimagine what a continuous support services and alternative to incarceration for young people.

Frederica Freyberg:

You would like to see community-based solutions, but where do you sentence the violent repeat offenders?

Jeffery Roman:

Sure. We understand and we know that there will be some individuals, some young people who need to have some level of secure placement for their own safety and for the safety of the community. Our stance is not that those places should not exist. Our stance is for those young people who need to have additional and advanced level of secure placement for their safety and safety of the community, that there are better alternatives to sending them hours away from their families, from their communities. Instead of having very large institutionalized institutions where you have beds for 100 plus young people, we believe that closer to home alternatives, secure placement options, where there are no more than eight, maybe ten, maybe 15 at the very top, and that those institutions are full of wrap-around supports from community and that they are full of more cognitive behavioral therapy kind of approaches, trauma-informed approaches so that we are really working with our young people to be rehabilitated so that they can be restored to their communities instead of recidivating back into the system three, six, nine, twelve months later down the road.

Frederica Freyberg:

Meanwhile the facilities are still in place up north and the FBI continues its investigation. What do you hope they find?

Jeffery Roman:

Well, we hope that they find or at least bring to light more that the system that we currently have in place for young people is outdated and punitive. And that the priority needs to be on restoring, rehabilitating our young people. We also hope that with the investigations that it really forces our state, our governor, Secretary Litscher and our county and our judges particularly to really start to think about what's happening to our young people in those institutions and what we can do here at home to better rehabilitate our young people.

Frederica Freyberg:

And toward that, you are holding -- or Youth Justice Milwaukee is holding a summit next week. What is that about?

Jeffery Roman:

Sure, so Youth Justice of Milwaukee, first we are a broad-based campaign. We are a coalition of individuals, young people who have been either incarcerated or have been in detention, their families, their parents. And community and national advocates who are working across the country and across the community to make sure that there are alternatives to incarceration for young people. So the Youth Justice Summit is really about engaging the community and having an opportunity for these issues to really come to light and to really organize and mobilize the community in what the community-based response should be to those issues. So you'll see we have a number of national speakers coming who have demonstrated how communities have been able to organize and mobilize and change policy to fundamentally transform their juvenile justice systems in their communities and really leave us with some lessons learned in those communities. That's what the day is about. We'll have a number of workshops. I'm particularly excited that we're going to have some young people who are going to be able to tell their stories, their experiences and talk about things that they've seen and they've experienced inside and outside of Lincoln Hills and Copper Lakes. That's really what it's about. It's really a community engagement tool and we're looking forward to the community really being engaged starting next Wednesday.

Frederica Freyberg:

All right. Jeffery Roman, thanks very much.

Jeffery Roman:

Thank you. Thank you so much.

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