A few weeks ago, in response to a new report showing a dramatic decline in the number of juveniles incarcerated in Wisconsin prisons, a corrections official made this statement: “As we’re learning more about people and human behavior, we’re coming up with different alternatives to incarceration.” And that is as hopeful a statement as we’ve heard in a long time.
Of course it should not have taken this long, and we have a long way to go. This state jumped on the lock ‘em up bandwagon early, and has resisted promising alternative, community-based programs that were working elsewhere. But there’s no arguing with a better than 50 percent drop in the juvenile prison population in the last decade, and a rate of confinement today that is 28 percent below the US average. Wisconsin is doing better; much better. Our system, at least for juveniles, is more just and more fair. And we believe it is because we have learned something. How about that?