County begins construction of juvenile detention center » Urban Milwaukee
3 mins read

County begins construction of juvenile detention center » Urban Milwaukee

County begins construction of juvenile detention center » Urban Milwaukee

Milwaukee County Center for Youth Rendering. Courtesy of DHHS.

Construction begins on a new youth prison.

The roughly $30 million facility is part of a long-running effort to close youth prisons in Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake. After allegations of abuse led to an FBI investigation into the facilities, state lawmakers began working on a plan to close them.

Wisconsin Act 185 of 2017 is the law that came out of that process, and it’s what started construction on the new prison, which the county will break ground on this summer. The full vision for state youth prisons outlined in Act 185 has yet to be realized. State prisons remain open, and a constellation of smaller county-run prisons has not materialized. These facilities are called Secure Residential Care Centers for Children and Youth, and that’s what the new facility will be.

Most of the funding for the facility, called the Milwaukee County Center for Youth, comes from a $28 million grant from the state. The county is contributing another $2.5 million for a new building, as well as more than $3 million to renovate the existing juvenile facility.

The 26,264-square-foot addition with room for 32 beds will be connected to the Vel R. Phillips Juvenile Justice Facility, 10201 W. Watertown Plank Rd., in Wauwatosa. The facility will operate based on a model established by an existing county program that keeps youth out of state prisons and more quickly integrates them back into communities, according to the county Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

It would allow any judge sentencing a juvenile to detention to order him or her to a facility in Milwaukee County, where he or she would be closer to family, as opposed to state juvenile prisons more than three hours away. That was a key policy goal of Act 185.

“We believe that youth and their families are key partners in the rehabilitation process,” said the DHHS director. Shakita LaGrant McClain said in a statement after Tuesday’s groundbreaking ceremony. “The fact that families must drive more than three hours to visit their children is a significant barrier to holistic healing. The Milwaukee County Center for Youth will be an environment that recognizes their dignity and strengths, promotes health, and provides opportunities for them to grow into responsible adults who thrive in our community.”

The facility’s programming will be based on the Milwaukee County Accountability Program. This program, developed by DHHS, gives judges the ability to sentence youth who have been convicted of a crime to a period of solitary confinement without requiring them to stay in state youth prisons. It involves a shorter period of incarceration followed by a transition to community supervision, combined with behavioral therapy and educational opportunities aimed at rehabilitation.

“We believe it is necessary and possible to establish a new paradigm of youth justice to ensure that our youth receive appropriate care and support in conditions that foster development and affirm, rather than destroy, the social contract between youth and their communities,” he said. Kelly PethkeAdministrator of the Division of Children, Youth and Family Services, an agency within DHHS that oversees the operation of juvenile detention centers in the county.

Judge Jane CarrollThe deputy presiding judge of the Children’s Court called the Milwaukee County Youth Center an “important step” toward closing youth prisons in the state, adding that the county is “wisely using resources to develop a well-integrated program model that will lead to successful outcomes for youth and the community.”