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.”
- 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
- State Can’t Meet Deadline to Close Youth Prisons - Graham Kilmer - Dec 30th, 2020
Read more about Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake here