Committee Okays Racine Detention for Youthful Offenders
Board will reconsider agreement it opposed in September to pay for Racine facility.
The board’s Finance Committee voted to recommend approval of an agreement between Milwaukee and Racine County’s with only one supervisor, Peter Burgelis, voting against it.
In December of 2021, former administrator of the county’s Division of Children Youth and Family Services (CYFS) Mark Mertens told the county board that he was seeing “flashing red lights” with the population at Vel Phillips and the number of youth being sent to the state youth prisons. By the end of 2022, the county saw the highest number of youth ordered to Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake in four years.
The daily rate for juvenile detention in Racine is $325, or $540 for a post-sentencing program that serves as an alternative to incarcerating young people at the troubled state-run youth prisons at Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake. The Racine option is also much cheaper, less than half the rate for the two state prisons. Without an agreement between the counties, the courts will only be able to order young people to home confinement or the two state youth prisons, said Kelly Pethke, interim managing director of the Children Youth and Family Services division.
By February 2022, the population at the 127-bed juvenile justice center went above 140, and youth were sleeping on rubber bed frames placed on the floor — called ‘boats’. In June the top jail inspector with the state Department of Corrections “strongly encouraged” county officials to move up to 10 youth to other detention facilities when the county’s was overcrowded. For most of the year, the facility has had a population of 120 or more young people.
After the board’s vote in September, all the young people who weren’t ordered to the incarceration alternative program under the 2021 agreement were brought back to Milwaukee. In October, the Milwaukee facility was once again over capacity.
Roughly one month later, the board included an amendment in the 2023 budget that allowed county officials to once again pursue an overcrowding agreement with Racine. That deal is again headed for the board’s final approval later this week.
“The other option for not sending youth to Racine when we’re over capacity will be to send them to Lincoln Hills,” LaGrant-McClain said, “and just to remind everyone that the daily rate for Lincoln Hills is $1,178 per day.”