County Wants Zero Youth in State Juvenile Prisons
Milwaukee County is attempting to have zero Milwaukee youth in state facilities by the end of 2021.
The number of Milwaukee youth incarcerated in state-run juvenile prisons continues to decline.
The Milwaukee County Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) reported earlier this month that the average daily population of county youth incarcerated in state facilities is 23. The plan is to have that down to zero by the end of 2021.
On May 12th, Mark Mertens, Division of Youth and Family Services administrator, told the County Board’s Health Equity, Human Needs and Strategic Planning Committee that the current total population of Milwaukee youth at the two facilities was 15 boys and one girl.
The county has been actively working to reduce the number of young people sent to state facilities, instead trying to build out programming and space at the Vel R. Phillips Juvenile Justice Center and the Bakari Center and through community-based alternatives to incarceration.
The county started down this path in 2015 after a criminal investigation was launched into the state-run prisons for mistreatment and abuse of the youth incarcerated there.
In 2018, the state Legislature passed Act 185 which set a deadline for closing the two state prisons, and funded the creation of a new state-operated facility for serious juvenile offenders and a handful of county run facilities — called Secure residential Care Centers for Children and Youth (SRCCCY) — so that youth would be incarcerated closer to home.
The legislation also set a deadline for the closure of the state facilities by January 2021. When it was clear that was not feasible, the deadline was pushed to July 2021. That deadline will also be missed.
Conditions at the youth prisons deteriorated during the pandemic, according to a report by a court appointed monitor. Increased isolation and virtual learning led to more fights and assaults among the youth and an increase in the use of restraints and isolation by prison staff.
In his 2022-2023 biennial budget proposal, Governor Tony Evers included a number of provisions related to youth justice, including capital funding for new youth justice facilities, but many were cut from the budget by the Republican-controlled Joint Committee on Finance.
Mertens said the county plans to seek certification of the Milwaukee County Accountability Program (MCAP), which it operates at the Juvenile Justice Center, as a SRCCCY. If the state grants this certification, it would substantially contribute to lowering the number of county youth at state-run facilities.
“That will change the calculus somewhat, because at that point our program will become the first choice statutorily for youth that need a correctional type of program. Mertens said. “Judges would have to make a finding that essentially our program is inappropriate for a youth in order to send them to Lincoln Hills.”
- Op Ed: New Youth Prison is Not the Answer - Mark Mertens - Jun 12th, 2022
- Problems Persist at Lincoln Hills, Copper Lake - Isiah Holmes - May 24th, 2022
- Evers Signs Legislation Funding Lincoln Hills Replacement - Graham Kilmer - Apr 8th, 2022
- New Youth Detention Facility Clears State Budget Committee - Christine Hatfield - Mar 3rd, 2022
- Assembly Approves Funds for Lincoln Hills Replacement - Shawn Johnson - Feb 25th, 2022
- Senate Votes 33-0 To Fund Youth Prison - Shawn Johnson - Feb 23rd, 2022
- Will Lincoln Hills Youth Prison Finally Close? - Isiah Holmes - Feb 9th, 2022
- MKE County: Warning Lights Flashing on Youth Justice? - Graham Kilmer - Dec 15th, 2021
- 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
Read more about Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake here