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Milwaukee County Submits Proposal To State For Youth Prison

Facility Would Be One Of Several To Replace Lincoln Hills

Cooper Lake and Lincoln Hills
Gilman Halsted/WPR

Milwaukee County is asking the state for $41.4 million to construct a “Secure Residential Care Center for Children and Youth” that will house those currently living at Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls.

Milwaukee County’s proposal includes funding a 40-bed secured facility, health clinic and educational, vocational and training programs.

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele said submitting the proposal for the new center is one step in the county’s commitment to providing effective programming and trauma-informed care.

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“In some ways, what has been a lot of abstract discussion is suddenly getting to be a very real solution,” Abele said. “What everyone is certain about is Lincoln Hills is a disaster. What this represents is a lot of hard work. While no one would suggest it is perfect, on our absolute worst day, it will be worlds better than Lincoln Hills.

Last year, state lawmakers approved a plan to close Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake by 2021, following years of allegations of inmate abuse and neglect. Under Gov. Tony Evers’ budget proposal, that deadline is eliminated. Evers has said the state needs to be realistic about the timeframe for establishing new facilities.

Evers’ capital budget proposal includes $115 million for juvenile corrections regional facilities. In addition to the county-run facilities, the state Department of Corrections will operate two youth prisons for the state’s most serious offenders. Those will be located in Milwaukee, at the intersection of Teutonia Avenue and Mill Road on the city’s northwest side, and in the Outagamie County community of Hortonia.

Milwaukee County hasn’t yet chosen its location for the Secure Residential Care Center.

The county’s movement to reform the youth justice system began in 2011 with Project Rise. Through Project Rise, the county has been changing its focus from punishment to rehabilitation to create more positive outcomes for youth.

The county’s proposal to the state also includes remodeling areas of the Milwaukee County Accountability Program (MCAP) at Vel R. Phillips Juvenile Justice Center on Watertown Plank Road, which includes 22 existing beds. Today, 57 Milwaukee-area youth are at Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake and 20 youth are involved in MCAP.

“Ultimately, Milwaukee County’s goal is to reduce the number of youth entering the justice system,” said Mary Jo Meyers, director of the Milwaukee County Department of Health and Human Services. “We believe our system needs a complete redesign. This will require making changes in Milwaukee County to reduce recidivism and racial disparities and create a system of healing and a path that leads to better futures for our young people.”

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