County Ready For New Youth Correction Facility
With state funding approved, county officials are ready to build facility.
Milwaukee County is essentially ready to build a secure detention center for youth now that the state has followed through on legislation it passed four years ago.
In August, the state Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee approved $13.1 million in funding for the expansion and renovation of the Vel R. Phillips Juvenile Justice Center. These funds, on top of the $15.2 million already appropriated for the county in 2020, brings the state funding to $28.3 million. The county estimates the total project cost at approximately $30 million.
The entire project is intended to help the county achieve its goal of keeping children sentenced to incarceration close to home and to eventually have zero county youth in state-run prisons. There are currently 29 youth in state-run facilities, but this number fluctuates up and down. At the end of August, there were 47 youth in state facilities. The county budgeted to send fewer children to state facilities in 2022 than it is currently averaging. This, combined with a hike in the amount the state charges counties to incarcerate the children, is causing a budget deficit for DHHS that has the potential to put the county’s whole budget in a deficit by the end of the year.
In 2018, the state passed 2017 Wisconsin Act 185, which was intended to reform the state’s juvenile corrections system. The legislation was a response to the failures under the administration of Gov. Scott Walker that led to poor conditions, allegations of abuse and an FBI investigation that became public when the agency raided the youth prisons.
Four counties submitted plans for these facilities, called Secure Residential Care Centers for Children and Youth (SRCCCY): Milwaukee, Racine, Dane and Brown. Only Racine and Milwaukee are still moving forward with SRCCCY projects. The state finally began to make significant advances on the Mendota expansion, breaking ground in March, and selected a site for the new Type 1 facility in August.
The state recently selected a site in Milwaukee for it’s new Type 1 facility for serious juvenile offenders; a 6.6 acre site on the northwest side of Milwaukee at 7930 W. Clinton Ave. The facility will be smaller than the Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake youth prisons. Getting the site approved was integral to moving the other pieces of the plan, specifically the SRCCCYs, forward. “Getting the Type 1 facility approved in Milwaukee was a major step,” said State Rep. Evan Goyke.
The additional funding approved for the county SRCCCY was critical to the county moving forward on the project. County Executive David Crowley deferred acceptance of the initial $13.1 million from the state until there was action taken on the new Type 1 facility and sustainable funding for the county facility was on the table.
The project will see the two existing MCAP pods renovated. Education facilities and programming will be expanded, with “classrooms, teacher support and offices, a computer/learning lab, vocational programming, testing/consultation, and other multi-media activities,” according to a recent DHHS report. Other features will include new recreation space indoors and outdoors as well as greenspace; space for health, dental and mental health care; a new welcome center and space for family visitation.