A plan announced by Gov. Tony Evers earlier this week to build a juvenile correctional facility on Milwaukee’s north side has drawn opposition from residents, who say they weren’t given an opportunity to weigh in on the site selection.
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State Sen. Lena Taylor addressed the crowd Thursday evening.[/caption]
Evers announced on Tuesday
that a Type 1 juvenile detention facility for serious offenders will be built near the intersection of Teutonia Avenue and Mill Road in Milwaukee. It is one of two new juvenile correctional facilities that will replace the Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls when they close.
Milwaukee Common Council President Ashanti Hamilton, who represents the district of the planned facility, convened a community meeting Thursday evening to discuss what he said was the state’s “unilateral” action of choosing the site for the new center. Hamilton said the decision was made without input from his office or the district's residents.
“Don’t you dare make a decision about where these facilities need to go without engaging the people who are going to be affected,” Hamilton said.
Kevin Carr, secretary of the Department of Corrections, said the state-run facility is planned to house 32 youth. The state needs between seven and 10 acres to build the facility. The chosen site encompasses about 17 acres.
The remote location of Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake in Irma, more than a four-hour drive from Milwaukee, has been a common criticism of the state’s current juvenile justice system. About 90 percent of current Lincoln Hills inmates are from the city of Milwaukee. There are currently about 170 youth living at Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake.
“Since 90 percent of the youth that we currently have at Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake come from the city of Milwaukee and this geographical area, the governor and I both felt that it was extremely important that we have this facility located in the community from which these youth came from,” Carr said.
Carr said the state's choice is informed by research that indicates keeping youth offenders in smaller facilities that are located closer to their homes reduces recidivism and helps them reintegrate into the community better upon their release.
“They need to be close to their families; they need to be close to their friends and the resources in the community that can help support them and be successful,” Carr said.
"We want to move from a punitive model to a more therapeutic and rehabilitative model," he added.
While several residents voiced support for a rehabilitation-focused model of youth criminal justice reform, concerns centered on the lack of community input before the site was selected.
About 130 people gathered for the meeting at Faith and Hope International Ministry, 6737 N. Teutonia Ave. Carr and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett fielded questions from residents for about two hours regarding the state’s plans and how the location came to be selected.
Barrett said he supports the Teutonia Avenue and Mill Road site.
"I like this site," he said.
The state faces a tight deadline for moving forward with the new facility. Act 185, which Gov. Scott Walker signed into law in 2018, mandates that Lake Hills School and Copper Lake School be shut down by January 2021. Evers has proposed delaying that deadline.
“The time clock is ticking for the state,” Carr said. “I’ve got to close Lincoln Hills and I’ve got to find an acceptable place to put our youth that we’re all going to be happy with how the place functions and the outcomes we achieve.”
Carr acknowledged at the meeting that the community should have been given more input in the process.
"I apologize, personally, for not having had this meeting prior to the announcement of the site selection," Carr said, adding that he would do more to engage the community moving forward.
Tomika Vukovic, a Glendale alderwoman and member of the Glendale-River Hills School Board, said those efforts were coming too late in the process.
"I hear what you're saying, but you're kind of appeasing us in the sense of, 'Let's listen to what you have to say, but this is a done deal,' Vukovic said. "... Don't make it seem like you're here because there may be a possibility to change."
The property for the site, which is owned by the city, has not yet been purchased. But when asked whether the site was a “done deal,” Carr said “the site has been selected,” which elicited boos from the crowd.
Prior to Evers’ announcement this week, a different site – a parcel of land located behind the DMV at 7301 W. Mill Road – was considered by the state. But that option was troubling to businesses, including Direct Supply, said state Sen. Lena Taylor. Taylor served on a 25-member committee, created by Act 185, tasked with examining site options.
The state-run juvenile facility is one of two facilities planned for Milwaukee County. The other, a secured residential center, would be run by the county and house non-serious juvenile offenders when Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake close. The county is in the process of holding a series of community engagement meetings to share those plans. In late January, the county said it had landed on locating the new center at 6101 W. Mill Road or 6600 N. Teutonia Ave
., after reviewing nearly 40 site options. That facility is expected to house about 40 youth at any given time and will include education, rehabilitation and workforce training to integrate young people back into the community.
County Executive Chris Abele on Friday said the county is "carefully evaluating" locations for the new center.
"There’s no greater priority than bringing our young people home from Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake. We're committed to doing what's right for our youth, but this work can't be done overnight," Abele said. “For that reason, Milwaukee County is carefully evaluating locations for our youth secure care center by engaging the community to get diverse input from residents. We'll continue to collaborate with the state and city as we finalize our plans."