Wisconsin Alliance for Youth Justice
- wendy-Second Chance Speech Wendy Sisavath 4:20
Wisconsin Alliance for Youth Justice is for families and advocates of justice involved youth. We support, inform and advocate. WayJ is a support and advocacy network.
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.
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