By Senator, Lena C. Taylor
I’ve always considered myself a public servant, not a politician. As a public servant it is my duty to be innovative and find solutions for problems that plague our community.
Because we have the highest incarceration rate of African Americans in the nation, Milwaukee is ground zero when it comes to fighting for forgotten souls behind bars. That goes double for juvenile offenders.
Due to the state’s terrible record abusing youth at Lincoln Hills, our juvenile offenders need a voice now more than ever. That’s why I have a plan that I intend to roll-out in the coming session to help our juvenile offenders: 1) Community Based Visits 2) Call to Action: Move Juvenile Corrections to the Department of Children and Families and 3) Creating a Permanente Local Option.
No one is born a criminal. We should treat our juvenile offenders as troubled youth, not hardened convicts. Period. They deserve our support no matter what they’ve done, because odds are, the reasons behind their crimes are complex.
1. Community Based Visit: Since January, I have led a number of community based visits to Lincoln Hills. During these trips, I and other community members have brought resources to the children at Lincoln Hills. During the visit, the members of the community gave the kids’ books to read, brought them motivational speakers who have walked in their shoes, and taught them how spoken word poetry and writing can help them get their feelings out. It is crucial to let these kids know that they are valued, and that they will have a chance to build their futures outside of Lincoln Hills.
Community based visits is something that needs to be continued, not only by myself but by other elected officials and community members.
Our office is currently planning a training session for anyone who may be interested in attending and making a difference in the lives of the children at Lincoln Hills.
2. Call-to-Action: Move Juvenile Corrections to the Department of Children and Families.
We need to treat our juvenile offenders less like delinquents and more like troubled youth. I’m a tough love kind of woman. I believe all offenders need to pay their debt to society when they commit a crime. I just believe when it comes to children, there’s a better way to teach them a lesson. We need to understand their brain is still developing and they make bad choices. What teenager doesn’t?
By moving juvenile corrections from the Department of Corrections to the Department of Children and Families, we let our children know that we think they deserve a second chance.
3. Creating a Permanent Local Option. This past month, I had the pleasure of visiting GROW Academy, a residential diversion program for troubled teenage boys.
Grow Academy does real healing. After 120 days in the program, most of the residents demonstrate a one to two grade-level increase in their reading skills. These young men learn how to grow their own food, how to package it, and how to sell it. Instead of selling drugs, they’re selling jars of ketchup.
And they’re doing it for a good reason; a study from The Journal of the American Medical Association found that exercise and gardening reduces crime.
Not only is Grow Academy teaching valuable life and job skills, but they’re also getting these kids involved in activities known to reduce crime and improve health.
Growing tomatoes at Grow Academy sounds a whole lot better for our kids than solitary confinement at Lincoln Hills, doesn’t it?
Unfortunately, Grow Academy can only house twelve individuals. We need more facilities like these, and we need them in the Milwaukee-area. It breaks my heart to think that we’re shipping our children off to facilities far away from the love and support of their families. We need to speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves, and right now, that means giving a voice to youth offenders.
Reforming the system so that our babies come out healed and not hurt will be one of my top priorities next session It’s my duty as a public servant. And it’s always a pleasure, never a chore.
Connect with Senator Lena C. Taylor on social media on Facebook.com/SenLenaTaylor, Twitter.com/SenTaylor or follow her at Instagram.com/Lena.Taylor.