Goyke: Youth Crime Bills Address ‘Problem in Reverse Order’

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Premiere Date: 
May 19, 2017

Goyke: Youth Crime Bills Address ‘Problem in Reverse Order’

Democratic Rep. Evan Goyke is critical of two proposed bills that would expand the list of crimes a minor could be incarcerated for and extend the length of time a minor could be sentenced. "They are addressing a crime problem in the reverse order," Goyke says, noting the juvenile incarceration system has a lot of flaws that need fixing before more kids are funneled in.

Episode Transcript

Frederica Freyberg:

Assembly Democratic Evan Goyke is a former public defender who sits on the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. We spoke with him at the capitol and started by asking his reaction to these bills.

Evan Goyke:

They are addressing a crime problem in the reverse order. So Lincoln Hills, which is the only type one, secure location for juveniles in the state of Wisconsin, is a broken institution. It's still under investigation. There are lawsuits pending. And even aside from that, evidence tells us that that model, one big institution far away from the population centers of the state, is less productive. It has less rehabilitative ability and we have to fix that setting. Fix our juvenile incarceration system before we start sending more kids to prison. So I think that there are, you know -- deterring crime is a laudable goal, but if you're not fixing the institution that we now know is broken, you should stop sending kids there before you fix that problem.

Frederica Freyberg:

What about the intent of the bills, which is to combat crime perpetrated by whom the authors call habitual, violent offenders?

Evan Goyke:

So I think there is a nugget of truth in that language. That there are a very small number of people, young people or old people, that commit a lot of crime. And targeting those individuals, whether that's through treatment or through incarceration, is smart. But the bills that we're talking about don't do that. They cast a very wide net. And they will not have the deterrent effect that the author is promising. And I think you and I can probably agree 15-year-olds and 16-year-olds probably aren't watching this program. They probably aren't watching us debate these bills. They're impulsive young people. So whether or not, something has ten years or five years or three years, isn't sinking into the mind of a young people. It just isn't. That's just the nature of being young. So our approach to deterring crime needs to be different.

Frederica Freyberg:

So you don't think that people, quote, on the street know that all of a sudden they can get a lot more time and they might rethink their actions?

Evan Goyke:

Some maybe. Sometimes I’m sure that happens. But I can tell you just in my neighborhood that that -- if I stop the random person walking down the street in my neighborhood and ask them what's the going criminal penalty for x, y and z, they wouldn't know. They wouldn't know.

Frederica Freyberg:

Authors call these bills a victim prevention package. You represent Milwaukee as you've just suggested. What better way then to punish, deter and rehabilitate juvenile offenders?

Evan Goyke:

Sure. Well, first on the label, that these are a victim package. Pay attention. The bills do nothing for crime victims. They don't add services. They don't add access to treatment or rehabil -- it doesn't improve the crime victim fund in the state of Wisconsin. So the promise of these bills being victim-centric is that they'll deter crime through heightened criminal penalties. For 40 years in this state, we've increased criminal penalties. And it hasn't deterred crime. Since I’ve been elected in 2012, the legislature has passed 50 bills that have either increased criminal penalties or created a new crime. And we've passed zero that reduce those penalties. But crime is going up. So it simply doesn't work. So what is the alternative? The alternative is early intervention. And this is going to sound maybe a little bit hard for some people to really understand, but early childhood education, zero to three, following these kids through the system, wrapping them with services and with love and support as they age through educational systems is the best way to deter crime. If you go to Lincoln Hills today and you did a survey of all of the kids that are there. How many of those youth had a CHIPS case, a Child In Need of Protection and Services. The warden tells me it's somewhere between 80% and 90%. That means sometime in their life they had neglect or abuse. Some trauma happened when they were younger. And we see often very risky, bad behavior as a result of some trauma that that young person can't process. So fixing the trauma is how you deter the behavior.

Frederica Freyberg:

A certain number of judges, as you know, are reluctant if not refusing altogether to sentence juveniles to Lincoln Hills. If these bills became law, what kind of pressure does that put on this system?

Evan Goyke:

It sends a clear message to judges that the legislature, the elected officials of the state of Wisconsin, want judges to send more youth to Lincoln Hills. It's very dangerous. And if you give them that nudge, they'll send the kids there. And the bills greatly broaden the number of crimes that would be called serious juvenile offender program. That's a program currently reserved for very risky, very violent kids. And under some of these proposals, we would potentially lump a retail thief or a drug processor into the same category as an armed robber. And that's not right. The system -- Lincoln Hills is not designed for that type of child. And it shouldn't be used. It's an overreaction to their behavior. This is again something that's kind of hard for people to understand, but sometimes incarceration makes a kid worse. So we know that if a good kid who's low-risk and maybe does something impulsive but has a good foundation and will grow up to not re-offend. If we put him in a cell with a kid that is very high-risk, the good kid is not making the bad kid better. It's the other way around. And that's why parents worry about who their kids hang out with. And that's why my mom made me call from my sleepover when I was 12 to verify I was where -- she didn't want me hanging around the wrong crowd. These bills have the potential of sending low, non-risky kids into the very last setting we should be sending them, into a prison.

Frederica Freyberg:

We need to leave it there. Thanks very much.

Evan Goyke:

Thanks.

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