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Home / Commentary / View from around the state: Walker needs to rebuild state’s juvenile justice system

View from around the state: Walker needs to rebuild state’s juvenile justice system

— From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Wisconsin’s juvenile justice system is broken. It’s time for Gov. Scott Walker to take the necessary steps to fix it. At the very least, he should create a task force or blue ribbon commission to come up with reforms that will ensure youth offenders are dealt with appropriately, receiving the punishment and help they need.

The youth prison facilities in northern Wisconsin are under investigation by the FBI for alleged cases of abuse. Milwaukee County officials and others involved with juvenile justice argue that large facilities such as the Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls simply don’t work and should be closed. We have joined that call.

That’s one problem. Another is that too many repeat juvenile offenders are walking the streets because the sanctions imposed in too many criminal cases are too light. The three youths charged in the murder of Greg “Ziggy” Zyszkiewicz, 64, all had prior run-ins with the law, as Ashley Luthern of the Journal Sentinel has reported.

“One of the teens charged in the fatal shooting of a city building inspector was free on bail after he was found in a stolen car,” she wrote. “Another had been charged four times in the past three years for illegal gun possession. And the accused triggerman, a teenager, had violated juvenile probation numerous times, but nonetheless was no longer being supervised by the county, according to sources.”

Mayor Tom Barrett told Luthern, “we are not doing the public any favors and we’re not doing the offenders any favors if there are no meaningful consequences to their actions.”

Milwaukee Aldermen Bob Donovan and Mark Borkowski have sent a letter to Walker asking him to “undertake a thorough audit and eventual reform of the state’s juvenile system.”

And Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn has weighed in repeatedly on the problems that released offenders pose for law enforcement and Milwaukee’s neighborhoods.

Any reform must deal with the problems at Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake. We agree with those who think smaller facilities closer to home and coupled with treatment programs are a better solution.

At the same time, more serious consequence are needed for youths who now get what many think is a slap on the wrist for crimes such as stealing a car. Why would a teen who had violated probation not be supervised by the county? Why would someone who had been charged four times in three years with illegal gun possession be free to roam the streets?

In an email Thursday, Barrett said, “The state, the county and the city have a very serious issue that needs immediate attention. It’s important that the governor and the secretary of corrections join us in developing real solutions.”

Walker should pay attention. It’s time to dismantle Wisconsin’s juvenile system and build a new one that works.

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