Still No Facility To Replace State’s Youth Prisons
Two deadlines to close the prisons have been missed, and plans for new facility have stalled.
Nearly four months after missing a second deadline to close the Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake youth prisons, officials still have not decided on a replacement facility to house local youths.
A proposal from a bipartisan group of legislators to authorize nearly $42 million in bonds to construct a new Type 1 juvenile correctional facility in Milwaukee County was introduced in August, but no public hearing has been held or scheduled.
A Type 1 juvenile correctional facility features secure fences, locked doors and staff surveillance of youths assigned there by the court. Lincoln Hills, which houses males, and Copper Lake, which houses females, are two of three state-operated Type 1 juvenile correctional facilities in Wisconsin.
Another co-sponsor, Sen. Tim Carpenter, said he’d be surprised if that proposal, along with companion Assembly Bill 524, weren’t brought forth for discussion soon.
“These bills are bipartisan, and legislators realize this is an important issue that needs to be addressed,” Carpenter said.
After years of investigations and lawsuits related to allegations of abuse and excessive use of force at Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake, state lawmakers passed Act 185 in 2018.
The act ordered the replacement of those facilities with smaller, regional ones that would keep youths closer to home. Plans to build a new facility in Milwaukee County fell apart when the state’s Joint Finance Committee cut funds for the proposed project in 2020.
While the latest plans to fund that project languish, a new controversy has emerged, with some questioning potential plans to open the new youth facility at the current location of the Felmers O. Chaney Correctional Center, 2825 N. 30th St., which offers work release and other programs to 100 people.
Beard said 26 of 61 youths currently housed at Lincoln Hills/Copper Lake, are from Milwaukee County, and that a new facility would keep them closer to home and to culturally relevant treatment and programs. In addition, he said, “the state already owns the property, and the surrounding community has proven it is willing to support a correctional institution and the persons in our care.”
Joseph Ellwanger, a member of the Felmers O. Chaney Advocacy Board, which works to support reduced recidivism and successful re-entry programs, among other issues, said it’s a bad idea to close the facility or move people out.
“We have 2,600 people coming back every year from the [prison] system to Milwaukee,” Ellwanger said. “We need more pre-release space, not less.”
The value of the Felmers O. Chaney Correctional Center, named after a former leader of the Milwaukee NAACP, is that it allows people to get a job, save money and set up housing upon release, he said.
“Unless they have a job or housing to go to, they are literally fearful of what’s going to happen when they return,” he added.
Carpenter said it’s important for the local government and the surrounding community to have input on the placement and construction of a new corrections facility.
Beard said the state cannot move forward with closing the youth prisons until a replacement is funded.
As of now, there is no timeline for when that will happen.
But Ellwanger and others question the need for a youth prison, citing the drastic decrease in the number of youth at Lincoln Hills.
Maya Neal, the senior political manager for Leaders Igniting Transformation, or LIT, an advocacy group led by youth of color, said her organization also opposes a new facility. She said that policing, prisons and other forms of incarceration and punitive measures aren’t effective.
Neal said youths at LIT are asking for more mental health services, paid opportunities to learn skills and other resources.
“People trying to solve this problem in our state legislature and locally need to think about the sustainability of the decisions that they are making,” she said.
Taylor said she respects and understands such views. She said it is necessary to create a pathway to new approaches that have proven to be more successful and move away from creating mini-adult prisons. Still, she said, the amount of money being spent sending local youths to Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake is also unsustainable.
“We can go and deal with this now rather than later, and it’s going to cost more later,” she said. “It’s what the court has ordered us to do.”
Little progress in finding facility to house Milwaukee youths once Lincoln Hills, Copper Lake prisons close was originally published by the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service.
- MKE County: County Hits 4-Year High of Youth in State Prisons - Graham Kilmer - Nov 28th, 2022
- MKE County: Vote Could Send More Youth to Lincoln Hills - Graham Kilmer - Sep 22nd, 2022
- Lincoln Hills Faces Rising Population, Staff Shortage - Isiah Holmes - Sep 20th, 2022
- MKE County: State Finance Committee Approves Funding For County Youth Justice Center - Graham Kilmer - Aug 16th, 2022
- City Hall: Council Gives First Approval to New Youth Prison Site - Jeramey Jannene - Aug 12th, 2022
- Rep. Bowen Statement on New Type 1 Youth Facility Site Selection in Milwaukee - State Rep. David Bowen - Aug 10th, 2022
- Evers Announces Milwaukee Site For Lincoln Hills Replacement - Jeramey Jannene - Aug 9th, 2022
- 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
Read more about Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake here