Wisconsin Alliance for Youth Justice
When a youth enters one of Wisconsin’s justice systems families are often shocked, scared and confused. We don’t understand what is happening and are not given support or information. This leaves a feeling of helplessness that can last for years. Whether your child recently became involved in a justice system or they are now an adult…
… WayJ provides peer support for families with children in the juvenile justice and criminal justice systems, informs families and the public, and advocates positive change.
GOAL: Abolish JLWOP in Wisconsin and allow for a meaningful Opportunity of release
At July phone conference guest speaker was Attorney Eileen Hirsch from UW Remington Center Law Clinic who gave history of
legislation on Juveniles and outlook for future and info below was supplied at that meeting. Early in this conference it was discussed that WI
does not have a mandatory life sentence structure but many youths did receive Defacto life sentences because of their inordinate length and it
was acknowledged that the lack of parole in Wisconsin in general must also be addressed.
Wendy, The Professor and Juvenile Justice
Over the years several U.S. Supreme Court rulings have recognized that juvenile offenders are fundamentally different from their adult counterparts and thus must be given a meaningful opportunity for release upon a showing of maturity and rehabilitation. 26 states, in response, have conformed to the rulings by enacting retroactive parole policies that, oftentimes, make juvenile offenders who committed very serious crimes eligible for parole after serving between 15 – 20 years of their sentence.
Though in the State of Wisconsin many of the prisoners who received long sentences as teens are kind of stuck somewhere in the middle. For they’ve not had their cases reviewed because they are technically parole eligible but the state’s parole board doesn’t release inmates even when they’ve demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation. For in the last 15 years less than 6, out of more than 120, inmates convicted of serious crimes as juveniles have been paroled.
Frustrated, about a year ago, Wendy Sisavath, a devoted member of the nonprofit organization, Wisconsin Alliance for Youth Justice(WAYJ), wanted to make a legal case against the Wisconsin Parole Commission to challenge the fact that the parole board is not giving meaningful opportunities for release to men convicted as juveniles.
So she reached out to a like minded law professor from the Yale Law School. A series of conversations resulted in a plan. The law professor told Wendy, ” I will find the attorneys for the case and you find the plaintiffs. “
Wendy used that summer to research the 40 – 50 juvenile lifers who saw parole the previous year, in 2017. Through reading up on their cases, listening to their parole hearings, etc…she narrowed her list down to 20, then 10, then 7 and then ultimately the final 5.
In the meantime the professor found 13 attorneys including two from the ACLU Foundation of Wisconsin.
After many, many years of being denied parole, after long, long, long hours of selfless hard work by Wendy, the Yale Law School Professor and a team of attorneys, the class action lawsuit was filed in a federal court on April 30th, 2019.
The lawsuit, in part, argues that the Wisconsin parole system fails to provide a meaningful opportunity for release thus essentially creating a life- without- parole sentence for those convicted as juveniles, of which, violates the U.S. Constitution.
It was filed on behalf of 5 men, all, of which, were convicted as juveniles of first degree intentional homicide or attempted first degree intentional homicide and have been denied parole.
This class action lawsuit is not suggesting that they are innocent of their crimes nor is it asking that their convictions be thrown out. It is simply requesting that the men convicted as juveniles be granted a meaningful opportunity for release if they’ve demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation, per the U.S. Constitution.
As a currently incarcerated juvenile lifer who has not been denied parole by the parole board…YET, I am eligible for parole for the first time in 2020 when I’ll have 24½ years in, this lawsuit is a ray of hope! Hope not just to be free for the sake of freedom but to be free to have an opportunity to redefine my life, a chance at redemption, atonement. For myself, and many of the other incarcerated juvenile lifers that I know, there is an intense desire to prove to the world that we are not what we’ve done! That we have talents, characteristics, insights and abilities that will significantly contribute to the enhancement of our communities, families and friends. Most of us understand that we made a huge mistake so we don’t want this lawsuit to be a get out of jail free card, we simply hope that it helps us obtain a legitimate opportunity to earn it!
– Dante Cottingham
121 people under the age of 18 years old were waived into adult criminal court in 2014. This is an increase over last year. In 2013, 117 kids were waived into adult court.
These numbers do not include kids that automatically started in adult court. All of our 17 year olds are adults no matter the offense. Younger ages are also auto charged as adults… but it depends on the offense and age.
Wisconsin Parole Facts
Does Wisconsin Have Parole?
Under Wisconsin’s Truth-in-Sentencing laws, any person who commits a felony offense on or after Dec. 31, 1999, and is sentenced to at least one year of prison will not be eligible for parole.
How does probation work in Wisconsin?
Probation is a form of court-imposed sentencing in Wisconsin that allows a criminal defendant to be released into the community rather than being held in a jail for a determined period of time. … Sometimes, however, probation does not go so simply.
Why are so few Prisoners being paroled?
Without transparency, there is no real way to know, but it is apparent that paroles have slowed to a halt, it is only certain that the parole positions will no longer be needed when the 3,000 parole eligible prisoners go home. It is disappointing that the parole commission is not mandated to adhere to the old laws that these inmates were sentenced under, and these inmates are held to the standards of the new laws designed for truth in sentencing inmates. Our aim is to hold them to that standard!
What Can you do to help?
Get involved with us here at WAYJ. We hold regular conference calls, organize events.
Contact us to find out what is happening and how you can be involved.
Contact the governor’s office in Wisconsin. You can contact Governor Ever’s office at 608-266-1212 and urge him ensure that the old laws of parole are upheld fairly.