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Finance Panel OKs Changes to Advance Local Juvenile Correction Centers in Milwaukee, Racine Counties

Credit: iStock

Erik Gunn

While Wisconsin’s plan to replace long-troubled youth correctional facilities at Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake advances, the state is also expanding a planned renovation of Milwaukee’s juvenile justice center and facing higher costs for a new youth facility in Racine County. 

The Legislature’s budget committee voted unanimously Tuesday to increase what the state will pay for both projects: renovating Milwaukee County’s Vel Phillips Juvenile Justice Center and building the new Racine County facility. The additional funds will come from money originally allocated for new juvenile facilities in Dane and Brown counties.

Both the Milwaukee and Racine projects are related to the 2018 legislation to close Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake and replace them with a new state youth correctional facility. 

That same law also created a new class of facilities for juveniles judged delinquent: county secure residential care centers, or SRCCs. Starting July 1, 2021, juveniles who were sentenced to a secure facility were to be placed by default in the county where they were judged delinquent rather than in a state facility.

The 2018 law created a program of grants and loans for counties to draw on to build SRCCs, and Milwaukee, Racine, Dane and Brown counties all developed plans to establish facilities. In August 2020, however, Dane and Brown counties both declined to take part in the state grant program.

Milwaukee County originally proposed renovating the detention facility at its Vel R. Phillips juvenile justice center. This summer, however, the county asked the state Department of Corrections to increase its funding so it could expand the facility.

Racine County plans to build its new SRCC in the town of Caledonia in Northeast Racine County. Both Milwaukee and Racine counties appealed to the corrections department for more money to cover increased building and renovation costs for their projects due to supply chain disruptions during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

The Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee approved nearly $8 million more for the Racine County facility and $13 million more for Milwaukee County on Tuesday. 

The increases were transferred from the $6.5 million that had been granted to Dane County and rejected, as well as $14.6 million from Brown County, where local concerns about that county’s plan have not yet been resolved, according to a fiscal bureau analysis of the subject.

The total cost is now pegged at $50.5 million for the Racine County SRCC  and $29.8 million for the Milwaukee County project .

In addition to unanimous support on the finance committee, the motion itself was bipartisan, advanced by Sen. Mary Felzkowski (R-Irma) and seconded by State Rep. Evan Goyke (D-Milwaukee). 

Along with both the announcement of a new site for the replacement Type 1 juvenile correction facility last week and plans underway to renovate and expand the Mendota juvenile mental health facility in Madison, Goyke called the Milwaukee and Racine SRCC plans “a significant step forward in the right direction” to decentralize juvenile justice corrections from the state to the counties.  

“I’m hopeful that there’s a day in the near future that those of us that have worked on this for so long can stand in front of the facility in Lincoln County as the last kid gets taken out of that, and we can finally end this chapter and saga of what was an old system for juvenile justice and welcome the Wisconsin model, a more modern, efficient and effective system for juvenile justice,” Goyke said.

This story was written by Erik Gunn, Deputy Editor at the Wisconsin Examiner, where this story first appeared.