Graham Kilmer
MKE County

County Breaks Ground On Youth Detention Facility

New facility a long-awaited first step in the plan to close state youth prisons.

By - Jul 10th, 2024 03:24 pm

Milwaukee County Center for Youth Rendering. Courtesy of DHHS.

Construction is beginning on a new correctional facility for youth.

The approximately $30 million facility is one part of a long-running effort to close the state’s youth prisons at Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake. After allegations of abuse led to an FBI investigation of the facilities, policymakers at the state level began working on a plan to close the facilities.

2017 Wisconsin Act 185 is the legislation that came out of that process, and it’s what set in motion the new correctional facility the county will begin building this summer. The complete vision for statewide juvenile corrections laid out in Act 185 has not yet been realized. The state prisons remain open, and a constellation of smaller correctional facilities run by counties has not materialized. The facilities are called Secure Residential Care Centers for Children and Youth, and that’s what this new facility will be.

The majority of funding for the facility, being called the Milwaukee County Center for Youth, comes from $28 million in grants from the state. The county is kicking in another $2.5 million for the new building, as well as more than $3 million for renovations at the existing youth detention facility.

It is a 26,264-square-foot addition with space for 32 beds and will be attached to the Vel R. Phillips Juvenile Justice Facility, 10201 W. Watertown Plank Rd., in Wauwatosa. The facility will run on a model established by an existing county program that keeps youth out of state prisons and integrates them more quickly back into their communities, according to the county’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

It will allow any judge sentencing a youth to incarceration to order them to a facility in Milwaukee County, where they will be closer to family, as opposed to the state youth prisons more than three hours away. This was a key policy goal of Act 185.

“We believe that youth and their families are critical partners in the rehabilitation process,” DHHS Director Shakita LaGrant-McClain said in a statement following a ceremonial ground breaking Tuesday. “The fact that families have to drive more than three hours to visit their children creates a significant barrier to holistic treatment. The Milwaukee County Center for Youth will be an environment that acknowledges their dignity and strengths, promotes health, and provides opportunities to grow and become a responsible adult that thrives in our community.”

The facility’s programming will be based on the Milwaukee County Accountability Program. This program, developed by DHHS, gives judges the ability to sentence youth who have been convicted of a crime to a period of confinement without ordering them to the state’s youth prisons. It involves a shorter period of incarceration followed by a transition to community supervision, coupled with behavioral therapy and educational opportunities aimed at rehabilitation.

“We believe it is necessary and possible to establish a new paradigm of youth justice to ensure our youth receive proper care and support under conditions that promote growth and affirm, rather than destroy, the social contract between youth and their communities,” said Kelly Pethke, Administrator of the Division of Children Youth and Family Services, a constituent agency of DHHS, and which oversees the county’s youth detention functions.

Judge Jane Carroll, the deputy presiding judge for Children’s Court, called the Milwaukee County Center for Youth an “important step” toward closing the state’s youth prisons, adding that the county is “wisely using resources to develop a well-integrated program model that will lead to successful outcomes for youth and the community.”

If you think stories like this are important, become a member of Urban Milwaukee and help support real, independent journalism. Plus you get some cool added benefits.

One thought on “MKE County: County Breaks Ground On Youth Detention Facility”

  1. Mingus says:

    This will be a great addition to the juvenile justice system in Milwaukee. There were decades of marginal rehabilitation services when the State moved the Youth Facility from Wales to Northern Wisconsin away from easy access for the families of inmates and significantly reduced the pool of skilled workers. The State has paid out tens of millions of dollars to settle lawsuits over the poor treatment of inmates in the northern Wisconsin facility. Bad policy decisions can reverberate for decades.

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us