Milwaukee County submits $42 million proposal for juvenile offender facilities

Previously proposed building one youth secure residential care center

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele
Chris Abele

Last updated on November 21st, 2019 at 02:44 pm

Milwaukee County is proposing to renovate existing facilities to house youth currently living at Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls, a change from its earlier proposal to build a new youth secure residential care center in Milwaukee.

The county announced Monday it has submitted a proposal to the state seeking $41.8 million to renovate and expand existing facilities to create 54 beds for some Milwaukee County youth who will transfer from Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake when those two facilities are set to close in 2021.

Under the new plan, the county seeks to remodel two pods with 22 beds in the existing Vel R. Phillips Youth Detention Center at 10201 W Watertown Plank Road, which would serve as assessments and crisis units. The county also proposes collaborating with community partners to establish eight beds for girls and 24 beds for boys through remodeling two or more existing buildings.

To meet a March 31 deadline, the county previously submitted a $41 million proposal to build a new secure residential center in Milwaukee and renovate portions of the Vel R. Phillips center. But, at that time, the state Department of Corrections had not yet developed an application for counties to complete, and allowed them to instead submit a letter of interest in the interim. The deadline for counties’ proposals was extended to June 30.

Milwaukee County leaders said they knew their initial proposal was an imperfect plan at the time, but were determined to vie for the funding under the state’s parameters.

“We did the best we could to come up with a proposal and submit it on time,” said Mary Jo Meyers, director of Milwaukee County Health and Human Services. “And we were happy to do so because what it did for the legislators who authored the bill and the various committees working on this, it it gave an indication of just how much this was going to cost if we’re going to do it right.”

County leaders said the new proposal reflects what they have learned throughout their eight-year effort to reform the youth justice system, and allows them to provide a “comprehensive continuum of care” for the youth and families. In recent months, county leaders have hosted national experts and completed site visits to better understand national best practices related to the youth justice system.

The new proposal, leaders said, will focus on reducing recidivism, enhancing after-care transition supports and helping divert youth from the justice system.

“In Milwaukee County, our focus on restorative justice has been put in practice and proven effective,” said Chris Abele, Milwaukee County executive. “This plan builds on the work we have done to provide a youth justice system that is safe, secure, effective and sustainable. I am confident that this is the transformation we need to support our young residents and our entire community.”

Cost estimates for the county’s proposed programs and staffing are still being finalized.

Separate from the county’s proposal, a state-run detention facility for those deemed serious juvenile offenders is proposed for the intersection of Teutonia Avenue and Mill Road on Milwaukee’s north side. It is one of two “Type 1” facilities planned by the state to replace Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake, which are mandated to close in 2021. That plan has drawn opposition from residents in the area and neighboring Glendale.

Milwaukee County is among several counties that are vying to run facilities that would house less serious offenders. Currently, 57 Milwaukee-area youth are at Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake and 20 youth are involved in the Milwaukee County Accountability Program at the Phillips center.

Out of the renovated Phillips center and other community-based sites, county leaders said they plan to offer educational and vocational training, programming and recreation, family and community visitors, medical care and room for advanced security and safety technology.

“Our aim is not to just do better than Lincoln Hills, but to set the new national model,” Abele said. “…Most importantly, our goal is to improve public safety, have dramatically better outcomes for our youth and do it more humanely, using smarter and evidence-based practices, all while being responsible stewards of tax dollars.”

The grant committee reviewing counties’ proposals is expected to make funding allocation decisions in October. If its request is approved, Milwaukee County expects to open its facilities by July 2021.

Sign up for BizTimes Daily Alerts

Stay up-to-date on the people, companies and issues that impact business in Milwaukee and Southeast Wisconsin

No posts to display