Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Council Gives First Approval to New Youth Prison Site

But promises substantial time remains for formal public comment.

By - Aug 12th, 2022 12:24 pm
Milwaukee City Hall. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Milwaukee City Hall. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The Milwaukee Common Council took the first step toward approving a Milwaukee-based replacement for the troubled Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake youth prison facilities that are located more than 200 miles from the city.

Governor Tony Evers announced an agreement Tuesday to build a new “Type 1” justice facility on a dead-end street on Milwaukee’s Far Northwest Side. The facility is used to house youth convicted of “Serious Juvenile Offender” offenses.

The council held a special meeting Friday morning to approve the site, as required by state law, but not the zoning change necessary to construct the complex.

There was no public comment taken, nor did the council members offer much of their own.

The only two individuals to speak on the matter were Robert Bauman and Marina Dimitrijevic, each of whom said the vote in front of the council was procedural and that opportunities for public comment were coming.

“Our intended action today is merely for the purpose of satisfying a statutory requirement,” said Bauman. “Our approval today does not circumvent or overrule or override the normal process of a zoning change.”

A zoning change will be necessary to build the facility, with formal public hearings required before the City Plan Commission and Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee. The Wisconsin State Legislature also needs to conduct further votes on the matter.

“There will be plenty of opportunity for the public to be continue to be able to weigh in,” said Dimitrijevic.

“We have received many comments,” said Dimitrijevic, but she encouraged people to continue to submit them.

The council voted 11-1 to approve the measure. Alderwoman Milele A. Coggs arrived at the end of the vote, so she wasn’t allowed to speak on the issue but voted no.

In a statement posted to Instagram after this article was first published, Coggs said she voted no because a public meeting has yet to be held about the site and that there is no council member currently representing the area.

The new facility would be built at 7930 W. Clinton Ave., a 6.6-acre site located southwest of the intersection of N. 76th St. and W. Calumet Rd.

The new site is located in the ninth aldermanic district, which currently has no local representative following Chantia Lewis‘ felony plea agreement for campaign finance violations.

The new Milwaukee site is currently owned by an affiliate of Poblocki Paving, but Evers announced that the Department of Administration has reached an agreement to purchase the property. It contains an approximately 20,000-square-foot warehouse currently and is assessed for $537,900.

Why A Replacement?

The need to replace the “Type 1” justice facilities became headline news when a law enforcement raid of the facilities in 2015 revealed that a federal probe into conditions at the facilities was underway. The Wisconsin State Legislature approved a replacement framework in 2018, but has yet to provide full funding to move those plans forward.

Evers signed a bipartisan proposal into law in April that provides $41.8 million to build the replacement. The state has already paid more than $25 million in legal fees and settlements as a result of the conditions at the existing facilities.

The state had most recently considered upgrading the Felmers O. Chaney Correctional Center, 2825 N. 30th St., into a “Type 1” facility, but multiple local stakeholders objected to that proposal. That followed failures to advance other sites in Milwaukee. In the press release, Evers said that multiple stakeholders suggested the Clinton Avenue site.

“Everyone agreed back in 2018 that moving youth closer to their families and culturally-relevant programming were key factors in improving the state’s juvenile justice system,” Wisconsin Department of Corrections Secretary Kevin Carr in a statement Tuesday. “We’re excited to move ahead, complete the work that remains, and begin the long-overdue work on a new juvenile corrections facility in Southeast Wisconsin.”

The Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls are both located in Irma, between Wausau and Tomahawk. In addition to the three-hour drive from Milwaukee, local officials have had to deal with rising costs of incarcerating youth at the facility. At the current rate, it costs Milwaukee County more than $420,000 per year to have a young person incarcerated at the facility because a number of other counties no longer send youth there and the population has dropped.

According to a Department of Corrections report, the facilities have a combined capacity of 548 inmates, but only 78 inmates are currently incarcerated in Irma. The Type 1 facilities are designed for the most serious youth offenders.

The council resolution says that more than half of the inmates are from Milwaukee.

Southern Wisconsin juvenile male offenders were previously housed at the Ethan Allen School for Boys in the Town of Delafield, but Governor Scott Walker closed that facility and one for girls in Racine County as part of a cost-cutting move in 2011. Given the condition of Ethan Allen, a former sanitarium, it would reportedly cost several million dollars to reopen the facility.

UPDATE: An earlier version of this article said Coggs was excused from the vote.

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Related Legislation: File 220553

Categories: City Hall, Real Estate

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