After 16-year-old Maricella Chairez died in a Racine County jail cell in 2017, local officials did little to address her death — and their own failures.
Now, Wisconsin lawmakers, responding to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel investigation, vow numerous reforms in the juvenile justice system statewide, including more thorough investigations of jail deaths.
“While Maricella’s story is unique, the issues she faced are not,” said Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine. “Maricella’s story shows us that despite the progress we’ve made, and made since her tragic death, more work remains.”
The Journal Sentinel investigation found numerous failures by authorities who downplayed Chairez’s reports of sexual assault, jailed her when she escaped traffickers, held her in an unsafe environment without proper mental health care, and were late to check on her the night she killed herself at the Racine County Juvenile Detention Center.
Gov. Tony Evers’ office did not answer questions about Maricella’s death and the proposed reforms, referring the Journal Sentinel to the Department of Corrections. A spokesman for the department did not allow department officials to be interviewed in recent weeks.
Lawmakers from both parties who serve on committees on corrections and children’s issues said the Legislature could make several changes to reduce youth incarceration and address suicide hazards.