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COMMENTARY: Wisconsin Must Shift Youth Justice Policy to Promote Transformative Change

MILWAUKEE COURIER — As Wisconsin looks to establish a new correctional system for youth, it is incumbent upon us to act with great urgency to respond to the immediate crisis at Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake Schools. We must take deliberate action to promote youth justice system reforms that are most effective, safe, sustainable and support proper care and treatment of our youth.

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By Milwaukee Courier

As Wisconsin looks to establish a new correctional system for youth, it is incumbent upon us to act with great urgency to respond to the immediate crisis at Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake Schools. We must take deliberate action to promote youth justice system reforms that are most effective, safe, sustainable and support proper care and treatment of our youth.

While Act 185 has many merits, it doesn’t go far enough. Act 185, which this administration inherited, only marginally improves the status quo while a paradigm shift is needed. Instead of pushing for transformational change, it aims to improve conditions of confinement without reducing the number of youth Wisconsin places in locked custody or the state’s carceral footprint.

In their 2011 publication, No Place for Kids: The Case for Reducing Juvenile Incarceration, the Annie E. Casey Foundation outlined six failings of America’s juvenile corrections facilities. It stated that juvenile corrections facilities are dangerous, ineffective, unnecessary, obsolete, wasteful and inadequate. Given the poor outcomes of Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake, it would be fair to similarly categorize Wisconsin’s juvenile corrections facilities by these pitfalls.

Lincoln Hills School (LHS)

Lincoln Hills School (LHS)

In response to these failings, the Casey Foundation identified six priorities including limiting the eligibility for correctional placements, investing in promising non-residential alternatives, changing the financial incentives, adopting best practice reforms for managing youth offenders, replacing large institutions with small, treatment-oriented facilities, and using data to hold systems accountable. The State of Missouri and Wayne County, Michigan (Detroit) are examples of jurisdictions who used these strategies to eliminate state juvenile correctional facilities and realize remarkable reductions of youth in secure care facilities.

Reports by the Center for Children’s Law and Policy and Columbia University Justice Lab have outlined the successes of the Close to Home initiative implemented in New York City. Since 2011, the model successfully reduced the need for secure care for youth and lowered youth crime rates when compared to the rest of New York State. Other jurisdictions like Philadelphia and Houston are looking to learn from the Close to Home model, as they respond to the failures of their large correctional facilities. The success of models like Close to Home have now prompted over 50 justice system leaders to sign a statement calling for the closure of all youth prisons and placing these youth at home with rigorous community programming, or in small, home-like facilities close to the youth’s families.

If revisions to the DOC 347 were made, Milwaukee County could develop smaller, more home-like secure settings for the majority of youth at Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake and renovate two pods in the Detention Center to serve the youth in need of additional internal structure and security. Only a small number of the youth committed to restrictive custodial care actually require the type of Wisconsin Must Shift Youth Justice Policy to Promote Transformative Change internal security available within a detention center or correctional facility. We believe that such a plan could result in significant savings and reduce the overall institutional footprint, while providing a more trauma-informed and engaging treatment environment for most youth.

Wisconsin has the second highest rate of disparity in confinement between white and black youth in the nation. Black youth are 15 times more likely than white youth to be confined in our state. This is not only true in Milwaukee. It is true across our state. We cannot incarcerate our way out the problems our youth are facing. We must find a better way, and our best opportunity is now.

It is critical to strengthen the network of providers, mentors, coaches, employers, teachers, and advocates who look like and have similar life experiences as our youth. Programs like Running Rebels help young people be successful and lead healthy, prosocial lives. However, it is imperative that we continue to expand the capacity for mentors with lived experience, vocational training, alternative educational, recreational resources and socioeconomic advancement opportunities for underserved youth and families in Milwaukee.

The history of juvenile prison failures spanning decades and across over 30 states, territories, and the District of Columbia, coupled with our own tragic and troubling experiences within Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake Schools more than justify the call for the closing of all youth prisons. To that end, the state should eliminate “Type I” facilities and build regional Secure Residential programs. If we aspire to establish a new, therapeutic treatment culture in our youth justice system, we must understand that words matter. We must do everything within our power to assure that our history of abusive institutions does not repeat itself and we must do so at this critical juncture.

We believe that these proposed changes will position our state to continue to pursue transformative improvements. It is only through this pursuit that we can establish an effective, sustainable and fiscally responsible youth justice system. Wisconsin should not waste this tremendous opportunity to redefine who we are as a state when it comes to youth justice.

This article originally appeared in the Milwaukee Courier

Activism

African American Sports & Entertainment Group (AASEG) helps support 25th annual turkey drive in East Oakland

Assembymember Mia Bonta said,”I am excited and fully in support of the City Council’s decision to prioritize an African American-led, Oakland rooted, development group to negotiate how we can reimagine the Coliseum site. This represents a promise of development without displacement, and amenities and entertainment that East Oakland once had and deserves again. This is also the kind of community-led, wealth building opportunity l will fight for at the state level, and I will continue to support initiatives like these here in the 18th Assembly District.”

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The African American Sports & Entertainment Group came out to support the 25th annual Community Giving Foundation Turkey drive at Verdese Carter Park in East Oakland.

Hosted by founder and organizer Marlon McWilson, the turkey drive that started in 1997 has now donated over 35,000 Turkey’s through McWilson’s foundation. In attendance were Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong, Oakland PAL, California Assembly Member Mia Bonta (AD-18) along with husband and Attorney General for the State of California Rob Bonta. Assembly Member Bonta also congratulated the AASEG on their recent unanimous 8-0 approval to enter negotiations with the City of Oakland on an Exclusive Negotiating Agreement (ENA) to purchase the city’s half interest of the coliseum land, and looks forward to working with the team.

Assembymember Mia Bonta said,”I am excited and fully in support of the City Council’s decision to prioritize an African American-led, Oakland rooted, development group to negotiate how we can reimagine the Coliseum site. This represents a promise of development without displacement, and amenities and entertainment that East Oakland once had and deserves again. This is also the kind of community-led, wealth building opportunity l will fight for at the state level, and I will continue to support initiatives like these here in the 18th Assembly District.”

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Activism

New California “Strike Force” Gives Teeth to State Housing Laws

California Attorney General Rob Bonta said that California’s 17 million renters spend a significant portion of their paychecks on rent, with an estimated 700,000 Californians at risk of eviction. High home purchase costs — the median price of a single-family home in California is more than $800,000 — have led to the lowest homeownership rates since the 1940s.

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The Housing Strike Force will address the shortage and affordability crisis by enforcing state housing and development laws in the attorney general’s independent capacity and on behalf of the DOJ’s client agencies.
The Housing Strike Force will address the shortage and affordability crisis by enforcing state housing and development laws in the attorney general’s independent capacity and on behalf of the DOJ’s client agencies.

By Antonio Ray Harvey, California Black Media

To advance housing access, affordability and equity, California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced earlier this month the creation of a Housing Strike Force.

The team, housed within the California Department of Justice (Cal DOJ) has been tasked with enforcing California housing laws that cities across the state have been evading or ignoring.

The strike force will conduct a series of roundtables across the state to educate and involve tenants and homeowners as the state puts pressure on municipalities failing to follow housing rules and falling short of housing production goals set by the state.

“California is facing a housing shortage and affordability crisis of epic proportion,” Bonta said. “Every day, millions of Californians worry about keeping a roof over their heads, and there are too many across this state who lack housing altogether.

“This is a top priority and a fight we won’t back down from. As Attorney General, I am committed to using all the tools my office has available to advance Californians’ fundamental right to housing.”

The Housing Strike Force will take “an innovative and intersectional approach” to addressing the housing crisis, focusing on tenant protections, housing availability and environmental sustainability, housing affordability, and equitable and fair housing opportunity for tenants and owners.

Bonta also launched a Housing Portal on the Cal DOJ’s web site with resources and information for California homeowners and tenants.

The strike force will enlist the expertise of attorneys from the Cal DOJ’s Land Use and Conservation Section, the Consumer Protection Section, the Civil Rights Enforcement Section, and the Environment Section’s Bureau of Environmental Justice in its enforcement efforts.

“California has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to address its housing crisis, thanks to the historic $22 billion housing and homelessness investments in this year’s budget. But it’ll only work if local governments do their part to zone and permit new housing,” Governor Gavin Newsom said. “The attorney general’s emphasis on holding cities and counties accountable for fair housing, equity, and housing production is an important component to the state’s efforts to tackle the affordability crisis and create greater opportunities for all Californians to have an affordable place to call home.”

According to the National Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB), the level of Black ownership nationally has decreased below levels achieved during the decades when housing discrimination was legal.

The 2020 census reports that there was a 29.6% gap between homeownership rates for African Americans and whites. Homeowners accounted for 44.6% of the Black population as compared to 74.2% for whites.

“Blacks have made little, if any, strides at closing the homeownership gap. Systemic discriminatory regulations and policies continue to thwart any meaningful effort at increasing Black homeownership,” Lydia Pope, NAREB’s president, said.

In California, the DOJ reports that over the last four decades, housing needs have outpaced housing production. It has caused a crisis that stretches from homelessness to unaffordable homes.

Despite significant effort, the DOJ stated that California continues to host a disproportionate share of people experiencing homelessness in the United States, with an estimated 150,000 Californians sleeping in shelters, in their cars, or on the street.

Bonta said that California’s 17 million renters spend a significant portion of their paychecks on rent, with an estimated 700,000 Californians at risk of eviction. High home purchase costs — the median price of a single-family home in California is more than $800,000 — have led to the lowest homeownership rates since the 1940s.

Due to decades of systemic racism, these challenges have continuously and disproportionately impacted communities of color. For example, Bonta said, almost half of Black households in California spend more than 30% of their income on housing, compared with only a third of White families.

In addition, less than one in five Black California households could afford to purchase the $659,380 statewide median-priced home in 2020, compared to two in five white California households that could afford to purchase the same median-priced home, the California Association Realtors (CAR) said in a February 2021 statement.

The percentage of Black home buyers who could afford to purchase a median-priced, existing single-family home in California in 2020 was 19%, compared to 38% for white households, CAR stated.

“Just as the price for a single-median home reaches a new record of more than $800,000 in California, everywhere you look, we are in a housing crisis,” Bonta said during the virtual news conference on Nov. 3.

“Among all households, one in four renters pays more than half of their income on rent.”

The Housing Strike Force will address the shortage and affordability crisis by enforcing state housing and development laws in the attorney general’s independent capacity and on behalf of the DOJ’s client agencies.

Earlier this year, Newsom signed Assembly Bill (AB) 215, enhancing the attorney general’s concurrent role in enforcing state housing laws.

AB 215 was designed for reforms, facilitating housing development and combating the current housing crisis.

Newsom also signed Senate Bill (SB) 9 and SB 10 in September, legislation designed to help increase the supply of affordable housing and speed up the production of multi-family housing units statewide.

Authored by Senate President Pro Tem Sen. Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), SB 9 allows a homeowner to subdivide an existing single-family residential lot to create a duplex, triplex, or fourplex.

In response to SB 9, homeowner groups have formed across the state to oppose it. The groups are citing challenges they anticipate the law will bring to their communities, from garbage collection to increased risk of fires.

Livable California, a San Francisco-based non-profit that focuses on housing, is one of the groups that opposes the new laws.

“Senate Bill 9 ends single-family zoning to allow four homes where one now stands. It was signed by Gov. Newsom, backed by 73 of 120 legislators and praised by many media. Yet a respected pollster found 71% of California voters oppose SB 9,” the Livable California website reads.

“It opens 1.12 million homes in severe fire zones to unmanaged density — one-sixth of single-family homes in California,” the message continues. “SB 9 could reshape, in unwanted ways, hundreds of high-risk fire zones that sprawl across California’s urban and rural areas.”

But Newsom says the laws are urgent and overdue.

“The housing affordability crisis is undermining the California Dream for families across the state, and threatens our long-term growth and prosperity,” Newsom said in a Sept. 16 statement.

SB 10 was designed for jurisdictions that want to opt-in and up-zone urbanized areas close to transit, allowing up to 10 units per parcel without the oversight of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

“Passing strong housing laws is only the first step. To tackle our severe housing shortage, those laws must be consistently and vigorously enforced,” said California State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), chair of the Senate Housing Committee. “I applaud Attorney General Bonta’s commitment to strong enforcement of California’s housing laws.”

The Housing Strike Force encourages Californians to send complaints or tips related to housing to housing@doj.ca.gov. Information on legal aid in your area is available at https://lawhelpca.org.

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Activism

Facebook’s “We the Culture” Panel Discusses Black Portrayals in Mainstream News

The increase in Black representation in the news media was discussed when the topic turned to controversy surrounding Rachel Nichols, an NBA sportscaster on ESPN. In a July 2020 leaked recording, she appeared to be uncomfortable sharing hosting duties with Maria Taylor, another ESPN personality who is African American. In the recording, Nichols, who is white, suggested Taylor had been promoted because she is Black.

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A 2019 Pew Research Center analysis revealed that Black media professionals only make up 7% of newsroom staffers nationally.

By McKenzie Jackson, California Black Media

When Erica Cobb, co-host of the Daily Blast Live, first stepped into the world of mainstream news over two decades ago, she overheard a conversation in which an industry person considered Cobb the perfect minority for a particular role because, although she is Black, to them she “didn’t come across like a Black person” based on stereotypes in their head.

“Those convos now are few and far between because we have more seats at the table,” said Cobb, who is also a podcaster with a background in radio. She was referring to the growing numbers of Black faces appearing regularly in the news media. “The pipeline has opened for more people of color.”

However, Cobb said, the news industry still needs more African Americans.

Independent journalist Georgia Fort, the founder of BLCK Press, said the lack of Black professionals in newsrooms across the U.S. contributes to African Americans being portrayed in a negative way.

“The media industry since its inception has capitalized on exploiting our stories and disproportionately portraying us in a negative light,” said Cobb, who identifies as biracial.

“You can go back to blackface; even modern-day newscasts are saturated with Black mug shots,” she said.

The current state of Black representation in the mainstream media was the subject of a recent online discussion hosted by Facebook’s “We The Culture,” a content initiative created and managed by a team of Black Facebook employees focused on amplifying content from Black creators.

The social networking giant launched the platform in February with an inaugural class of over 120 creators specializing in news and social media content.

Cobb and Fort were panelists on We The Culture’s video chat on how Blacks are depicted in mainstream media.

The third panelist was Zyahna Bryant, a student activist, community organizer, and online content creator who is known for spearheading the movement to take down a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in in Charlottesville, Va.

The 53-minute discussion was moderated by Rushadd Hayard, a freelance web producer.

The quartet’s webcast happened a year after the murder of George Floyd, an African American man who died after Derek Chauvin, a white former Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

Video of Floyd’s death shined a light on the aggressive tactics law enforcement officers sometimes employ when engaging Black Americans. The horror of his violent murder sparked national conversations on racial inequity, motivating many businesses and organizations in the U.S. to support African American causes and take steps to increase diversity, equity and inclusion in their organizations.

The increase in Black representation in the news media was discussed when the topic turned to controversy surrounding Rachel Nichols, an NBA sportscaster on ESPN. In a July 2020 leaked recording, she appeared to be uncomfortable sharing hosting duties with Maria Taylor, another ESPN personality who is African American.

In the recording, Nichols, who is white, suggested Taylor had been promoted because she is Black.

“A privileged woman like Nichols,” Fort said, “refusing to support — or even accept — the advancement of a person from a disenfranchised community like Taylor is a problem.”

“You have people like Rachel, she wants something to be done as long as it doesn’t require her to make a sacrifice,” Fort continued. “In order for our nation to be more equitable, it is going to require all the Rachels to step aside and make space. Performative ally-ship is the best way I can describe her.”

Cobb noted that Nichols, who has since been pulled from appearing on the sporting network but continues to be paid, put herself in the forefront of a perception in the industry that ESPN had a diversity issue.

Bryant said media groups’ desires to increase the number of Blacks as employees are empty gestures if they don’t come with institutional change.

“I noticed we needed more Black voices after the George Floyd incident,” she said. “After the entire summer of organizing and moving into the election cycle, I felt that there was a disconnect. Not just with white people talking about Black issues, but the media altogether not having their ear to the ground.”

Hayard cited a 2019 Pew Research Center analysis that revealed that Black media professionals only make up 7% of newsroom staffers nationally.

Cobb said she first realized more Black representation was needed in the media when former President Barack Obama, began his initial run for the country’s highest office and a controversy ignited around him attending the church of controversial pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

“I was the only one speaking out in defense of Obama,” she said. “I remember my co-host turning off my mic and people calling in saying I was racist. I left in the middle of the show. A Black reporter from the Chicago Tribune called me and first asked if I was OK and secondly, what happened and how it went down, and if I thought it was racist.”

The same realization came to Fort when she was assigned to cover the shooting of a Black man by a police officer for a news station. She was directed to pull up the criminal history of the man, but Fort also investigated the officer and found he had a litany of complaints against him, including racial-profiling ones.

“This was omitted from the five o’clock news because my white superiors didn’t feel it was relevant to the story,” she said. “I found myself being characterized in the newsroom as the angry Black woman.”

Cobb said for more African Americans to be present in front of news cameras, more Blacks need to be in positions of power behind the camera, beyond just the editor and producer roles.

Fort said a change in culture could also be helpful.

“The industry standard is AP-Style English and a certain image,” she said. “Not all Black people or people of color use AP English as their natural dialect, and we need to stop expecting people to conform to that. Allow people to be their authentic selves. Why are we saying we want diversity, but we want people to conform? To me that’s not diversity.”

When Bryant began her drive to get the Confederate statue removed, a Black reporter interviewed her. She said talking with a person from the same race, from possibly a similar background, and who was empathetic helped the interview go smoother

“I’m looking forward to seeing more journalists with their Blackness on display,” Bryant said.

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