Wisconsin’s Next Governor: A Youth Justice Champion?
By Michelle Hannemann, CFYJ Spokesperson
There are many parents in the state of Wisconsin—but not many can say they are the mother of a felon that was charged as an adult for a crime he committed when he was a 14-year-old child. Clearly this is nothing to be proud of; however, I can be proud of how our son has evolved and overcome our state justice system’s tragic decision to treat him like an adult when he was a child. Speaking from experience, I never want another parent to have to endure the hopeless and overwhelming feelings of fear I continually felt—not knowing what was going to happen to my son. Sadly, our worst fears came true and our son was sent to prison. This does not need to happen to a child you love and care for. No one ever thinks it is going to be their child, grandchild, niece, nephew, friend’s child, etc., but it can happen! Children will continue to make bad decisions at times in their lives as they are learning and developing through life. Do they need consequences? ABSOLUTELY! But adult jails and prisons are no place for a child.
Wisconsinites are preparing to elect a new governor this year, and it is crucial that we ask our gubernatorial candidates to prioritize juvenile justice, particularly raising the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to 18. We are at a pivotal time in our great state, and we desperately need to raise awareness to create change. Our current governor Scott Walker is seeking re-election, but he, a father himself, has no interest in treating the children of our state as children. As of now, children in Wisconsin ages 10-16 years old can be transferred to adult court. And did you know that in Wisconsin’s judicial system, a 17-year-old child is tried as an adult automatically, for a crime as minor as breaking curfew?
This is not on many people’s radars, but when it is your child or a child you care about, you quickly realize how unjust this law truly is. State Schools’ Superintendent Tony Evers is an elected leader who understands the harms of this law. As an educator of children, Evers understands children’s brain development and how they mature. Not only is he a proponent of change when it comes to treating our children as children in our judicial system, he is an advocate of saving the residents of Wisconsin money by not sinking more revenue into our failed prison system: “The fact that we as a state spend more on corrections than (the University of Wisconsin) system tells me the last thing we need is to build a brand-new prison.”
Evers stands as just one example of the way our gubernatorial candidates have and should forefront juvenile justice issues during their election campaigns this year. It’s up to us as citizens and residents of Wisconsin to pressure ALL candidates to make official statements about “Raise the Age” and other issues affecting youth in our state. Contact candidates’ offices and invite them to speak at youth justice forums—this resource from CFYJ offers a step-by-step guide to planning such an event in your community.
As people of Wisconsin, we need to protect our children. My child had a strong family and a network of close friends for support when he was charged in the adult system; but not all children have such extensive networks of support. What happens to the child that doesn’t have someone in their corner? Do you believe in your gut that this child, in the adult prison, will be okay? What do you think the chances of him/her committing another crime are? We all know the answer is “very high.” Being exposed to adults and adult prison life is not suitable for our children. What can we do differently? This child should have the chance to receive the therapy and education he/she needs to grow, heal, and learn to be a positive and productive member of our society.
Wisconsin is a beautiful place to raise children, and is a place where our children deserve to be protected as they are the future of our great state.
Justice is local and voting matters. That is why 2018 is the year to #VoteYouthJustice. I encourage us all to rally our communities to come out and VOTE in local elections; because voting for youth justice matters. Get out and vote—show you care about the future of our kids.