State Finance Committee Approves Funding For County Youth Justice Center
State Legislature follows through on juvenile justice plan passed back in 2018.
The state Legislature’s powerful Joint Finance Committee approved $13.1 million in funding Tuesday for Milwaukee County to expand and renovate the Vel R. Phillips Juvenile Justice Center.
The funding comes as the county is seeing a rising number of youth placements at state-run correctional facilities, which comes with an increased cost to the county that is causing it to outspend its 2022 budget.
Tuesday’s action was the latest move by state officials to follow through on commitments made in 2017 Wisconsin Act 185 to redesign the state’s juvenile justice system. The legislation was in response to the failures and allegations of abuse at the Lincoln Hill School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls that came to light when the facilities became the subject of a federal probe and were raided by the FBI during the administration of former Governor Scott Walker.
Only in recent months have major steps forward been taken to actually realize the plans laid out in Act 185. The projects outlined in the legislation were initially underfunded by the Republican-controlled Legislature.
A major piece of the plan was also the construction of a network of smaller regional facilities called Secure Residential Care Centers for Children and Youth (SRCCCYs), which were to be operated by the counties.
Milwaukee County’s initial proposal for a new SRCCCY was repeatedly reduced by a state committee to the point that it became unfeasible to move forward with the project. In 2020, Crowley, who had a hand in crafting Act 185 during during his time as a legislator, wrote to state Department of Corrections Secretary Kevin Carr to say the county would defer acceptance of the state’s funding “until further information is available about the State’s plan for the Type 1 facilities as well as potential operating support.”
The new funding authorized by the Joint Finance Committee Tuesday will support a new plan from the county, not to build a new facility but to expand and renovate the 127-bed Vel R. Phillips facility in Wauwatosa.
At the state committee meeting Tuesday, Rep. Evan Goyke (D-Milwaukee) said, “Getting the Type 1 facility approved in Milwaukee was a major step.”
When the promise of Act 185 initially fell apart, it stalled a plan by officials in the county’s Department of Health and Human Services to expand a new juvenile justice program that was to serve as the model for care at the new facility. The model is a hybrid alternative to traditional incarceration that involves a 180-day stay in a secure facility, like Vel R. Phillips, and then transitioning to monitoring at home. The program “provides intensive supervision, advocacy, structure, support, and skill-building opportunities for youth who are court ordered into the program,” according to a DHHS report.
“Ultimately, the goal is to get our youth out of detention centers and back into the community leading full and successful lives,” Crowley said. “Today’s vote helps us do just that while reducing barriers to accessing needed services or programming and promoting race and health equity.”
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- Milwaukee Youth Prison Costs Grow 71% - Jeramey Jannene - Mar 1st, 2023
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Council Approves New Youth Prison in Milwaukee - Jeramey Jannene - Jan 17th, 2023
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- Eyes on Milwaukee: New Youth Prison Gains Plan Commission Approval - Jeramey Jannene - Dec 12th, 2022
- Problems, Staffing Shortages Still Plague Lincoln Hills - Isiah Holmes - Dec 10th, 2022
- MKE County: County Hits 4-Year High of Youth in State Prisons - Graham Kilmer - Nov 28th, 2022
- Youth Correctional Facility Faces Obstacles - Edgar Mendez - Nov 12th, 2022
- MKE County: Vote Could Send More Youth to Lincoln Hills - Graham Kilmer - Sep 22nd, 2022
Read more about Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake Facilities here