Youth Detention in Racine Approved
Supervisors quietly approve policy they previously rejected.
After several years of declining population numbers at Milwaukee’s Vel R. Phillips Juvenile Justice Center, the trend reversed in 2021 and by May of 2022 the facility had the highest population ever and it was short more than a dozen beds.
In September, DHHS went to the board for that approval and it was narrowly denied on a 9-7 vote. At that same meeting the board approved a similar request from the Milwaukee County Sheriff‘s Office, which sought to send people to Racine’s jail as Milwaukee’s was regularly overcrowded. A month later, the youth detention center was again above its capacity.
Some of the children that were sent to Racine in 2022 went there on a court order. Racine operates a post-sentencing program offering education and behavioral therapy, which is viewed as an alternative to sending youth to one of the state’s troubled youth prisons at Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake. Without an agreement between the two counties the courts would not order children to Racine’s post-disposition program, and the only other alternative was secure detention is a state prison.
Milwaukee County runs an alternative-to-incarceration program much like Racine’s, but an ongoing waitlist means there’s nowhere for the children to go if the detention center is full and they can’t be ordered to Racine.
While the board went into a lengthy debate about the policy in September before turning down the Racine deal, the proposal was not even commented on this time around. Instead, it was unanimously approved as part of a single vote on a handful of items before the board.
During the prior consideration, some supervisors expressed resignation about sending children further away from their families or that the board did not have direct oversight of the Racine facility. Sup. Ryan Clancy was a vocal opponent, stating the courts would simply incarcerate more children under the policy, saying it provided “some temporary comfort for the opening of new beds” but “would mean more kids being put in more cages.”
Other supervisors were not so persuaded. Sup. Felesia Martin told her colleagues, “It is far better to have them in Racine than to have them at Lincoln Hills, Copper Lake.”
By last week’s meeting, it appears, all the supervisors had come to agree with her view.