County Prepares for Lincoln Hills Closing
Seeks to build secured residential center for youth in Milwaukee.
When Wisconsin’s troubled youth prison, Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake, closes in 2021, the youth from Milwaukee County currently living at the facilities will be moved to a new secured residential care center closer to home.
Mary Jo Meyers, director of the Department of Health and Human Services for Milwaukee County, said she hopes Milwaukee’s center will change the future for troubled youth so the possibility of recidivism is reduced.
“It’s a setting in which treatment will occur; vocational opportunities will be available; school, recreation, all of the things we know will be helpful for a better future,” Meyers said.
Last year, former Gov. Scott Walker and state lawmakers passed Act 185 to close the youth prison by January 2021. Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake, which are located north of Wausau, have been plagued by allegations of inmate abuse and neglect for years.
The Department of Corrections hasn’t said how many county-run centers there will be, or where, other than Milwaukee, those centers will be located. Meyers said she believes there will be a second center in southeastern Wisconsin.
The cost of the Milwaukee center is still being evaluated. Milwaukee County will compete for a grant from the state to help pay for the facility. Grant proposals are due by the end of March.
Even if Milwaukee County is successful, the grant wouldn’t cover the entire cost of the center, Meyers said.
“Our goal with this center is to essentially put ourselves out of business — to connect our youth with recovery, education and job opportunities that will reduce recidivism and reduce the need for this center,” Meyers said. “For the long term, we’re creating a center that will change with the community’s needs and offer new opportunities for youth and families.”
Milwaukee County looked at an existing facility for its care center, but renovating a building would cost at least $40 million, so officials have decided to build new.
They are looking at sites in the Havenwoods neighborhood on the city’s northwest side. The neighborhood is close to where many of the youth are from, making it easy for family to visit.
Meyers would like to find at least a 5-acre site for the center to allow for a lot of green space. Being being close to a bus line is also a must.
“This is meant to be a place where communities can heal and get to a better place,” Meyers said. “We don’t want to build tall and we want it to be very aesthetically pleasing. We would like to get creative in terms of how to secure the perimeter. We don’t want this to look anything even remotely close to Lincoln Hills or Copper Lake.”
About 65 percent of the youth at the current juvenile prison are from Milwaukee. Meyers estimates the new center will have about 40 youth at any one time. Most will not stay for more than six months.
Bringing the youth home is also a way to get the community involved, either by providing peer support or mentorship, said David Muhammad, deputy director for the Department of Health and Human Services for Milwaukee County.
“The community is what brought about the change to close Lincoln Hills,” Muhammad said. “For us to make a way for youth to return only amplifies the call to reduce recidivism as well as provide second chances that does not push them deeper into the system.”
Meyers said this is an opportunity for Milwaukee to build a better community for families.
“We should not shy away from the fact that every single child there (at Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake) is a child of color,” Meyers said. “Milwaukee has a reputation. We need to make changes. And we are going to do that by doing the right thing by our children and our families.”
Listen to the WPR report here.
Milwaukee County Prepares For Closure Of Lincoln Hills was originally published by Wisconsin Public Radio.
- Still No Facility To Replace State’s Youth Prisons - Edgar Mendez - Oct 21st, 2021
- MKE County: County Wants Zero Youth in State Juvenile Prisons - Graham Kilmer - May 26th, 2021
- Report Finds Improvements in Youth Prisons - Isiah Holmes - Apr 21st, 2021
- New Therapy Used at Lincoln Hills - Rob Mentzer - Apr 20th, 2021
- Evers Proposes $45.8 Million for Milwaukee Juvenile Facility - Gretchen Schuldt - Mar 1st, 2021
- MKE County: County Has Just 22 Inmates in Youth Prisons - Edgar Mendez - Feb 24th, 2021
- Evers Pushes Juvenile Justice System Changes - Corri Hess - Feb 18th, 2021
- Youth Justice Milwaukee Calls for Transformation of the Wisconsin Youth Justice System as the State Acknowledges it Will Not Meet the July 2021 Deadline to Close Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake Prisons - Youth Justice Milwaukee - Feb 8th, 2021
- Pandemic Causes Youth Prison Problems - Graham Kilmer - Jan 27th, 2021
- Can State Rescue Youth Corrections Plan? - Graham Kilmer - Jan 11th, 2021
Read more about Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake here