By Nyesha Stone
The closing of our teen prisons—Lincoln Hills and Cooper Lakes—is a celebration to some because that means the release of their loved ones. But what happens once they’re released? Although a few of the youth will stay in state others might be relocated to different prisons.
Project Rise is helping with that issue and plans on expanding their efforts in 2021 when the teen prison officially closes. Project Rise is the County’s ongoing work to reform Milwaukee’s youth justice system and help imprisoned youth integrate back into society.
It is important that society knows what will happen to our youth once the prisons is closed, which is why Youth Justice Milwaukee invited the community to hear Milwaukee County’s future plans. These plans include expanding Project Rise and creating spaces where troubled youth can learn from their mistakes and then re-enter into society.
According to their site, Youth Justice Milwaukee is a campaign advocating for community-based, family-centered, restorative programs instead of sending our youth to prisons.
Deputy Director of the County Department of Health and Human Services David Muhammad said that a non-secure juvenile facility will open on Milwaukee’s Northside and that they are still looking for a building to house the youth.
He wants to have a space that focuses on rehabilitation instead of imprisoning the youth.
During the meeting, it was said that one jail equals three restorative centers, which is what Muhammad is aiming for when it comes to the 24-bed building on the Northside.
During the meeting, Dr. Nakia S. Gordon gave a quick presentation about adolescent brain development. Her presentation shows how experiences that youth go through affects their brains, which can eventually lead to trouble if the wrongs things are affecting the brain.
For example, the front of our brain (prefrontal cortex) allows us to regulate ourselves and think about the future. This part of our brain doesn’t mature till between 22-25 years of age, meaning the youth can’t always fully regulate themselves. And if they’re dealing with traumatic issues such as poverty, that can affect the development of the prefrontal cortex. Usually, when one is in poverty and can’t meet their economic necessities, they’re more likely to resort to criminal behavior.
Our youth don’t ask for the traumas they experience, but they’re usually punished for how they respond to their circumstances. Our youth are troubled and need more than a prison cell to sit in.
Administrator for the Milwaukee County division of youth and family services, Mark Merten says the county is focusing on trauma-informed care and more treatment programs.
“There’s a lot to do and a lot for us to figure out together,” Merten said about the future of the youth.
It’s going to be a long gruesome road to youth prison reform, but the fight has to continue.
To find out more about Project Rise visit https://county.milwaukee.gov/EN/DHHS/DYFS/Project-Rise