RACINE — Racine could see a new juvenile care center soon thanks to a piece of state legislation passed last year, after significant problems at Lincoln Hills.
Wisconsin Act 185, which was signed by former Gov. Scott Walker last March, aims to restructure the juvenile justice system across the state. The act closes the Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake juvenile correctional facilities while offering $80 million in grants to create new facilities for juveniles across the state.
The law also created a 10-member Juvenile Corrections Grant Committee to award grants providing 95 percent of state funding for the design and construction costs to build Secure Residential Care Centers for Children and Youth (SRCCY) for non-serious juvenile offenders.
The county that is awarded the grant would essentially run the center, but would still be subject to state Department of Corrections requirements related to programming and services that must be provided to juveniles. The DOC also will approve the minimum standards for the design, construction, repair, and maintenance of the SRCCY’s.
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Racine County Executive Jonathan Delagrave, who previously managed the Racine County Juvenile Detention Center, said that he is leading the charge regarding bringing an SRCCY to Racine. The county has until March 31 to submit its grant application to the committee.
“We don’t want our kids to go to La Crosse County or Eau Claire County… we want to keep them home because we do such a good job of programming,” said Delagrave. “We believe the services we provide are the best.”
Delagrave mentioned that the rates of recidivism are down for youths in Racine because of the county’s emphasis on education, mental health and family programming. The county also has programs like the Alternatives to Corrections Through Education (ACE), which is an education-based approach for juveniles that offers academic credits.
Last year, The Journal Times found that for Racine County youths who spend time in the state corrections facility, 99 percent re-offend within 12 months of discharge. However, that number drops to just 25 percent for those who complete the ACE program.
“I think that Racine County has done a very good job with education, partnering with Human Services and the Racine Unified School District to help kids in the community,” said Edward Kamin, superintendent of the Juvenile Detention Center in Racine County.
Delagrave said that he believes the county’s current Juvenile Detention Center at 1717 Taylor Ave. is “antiquated” as well, adding that he would like to create a new “regional facility.” The center was built in 1995.
“We want to create a campus-like setting,” he said. “More of a campus, school atmosphere than a jail setting.”
The county which receives the SRCCY grant can contract with other counties. Delagrave said he has been in touch with nearby counties, including Kenosha and Walworth counties, during the grant application process. Delagrave also said the county is still looking into possible locations and size for the center.
Kamin said that a vocational training component is important to any SRCCY as well.
“It makes sense at this point, as there is a unique situation with good jobs being available in the area, to make sure that the kids have an availability to the jobs,” he said.
The state has set a deadline of Jan. 1, 2021 for the closure and transfer of juveniles at Lincoln Hills to SRCCYs and new Type 1 facilities. But state Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, said the state may consider pushing the deadline for grant applications back three to six months to give counties more time to understand all of the components of the SRCCYs. This could in turn push back the closure of Lincoln Hills as well.
“The idea behind them (SRCCY) is to make it more regional so we don’t have hours and hours of driving time in between them,” Wanggaard said.
Type 1 facility as well?
The state also said that one or more Type 1 facilities, which are facilities for serious juvenile offenders and juveniles convicted as adults, must be created by 2021. A juvenile might be held in a Type 1 facility if they are an “adjudicated delinquent and receive certain dispositions,” according to the DOC.
The new law created a 25-member Juvenile Corrections Study Committee which was tasked with recommending locations and programming possibilities for Type 1 facilities. That committee, which included current Gov. Tony Evers, Wanggaard and Kamin, met six times in 2018, providing its recommendations for the location of the facility to The Department of Administration last October.
The recommendations of the committee included the Southern Wisconsin Center, located in Dover, as the committee’s second preference for a southeast Wisconsin site. Other recommendations in the southeastern Wisconsin area included a Department of Transportation-owned site in Milwaukee which received the highest number of votes from the committee, and the Ethan Allen School in Wales.
The Southern Wisconsin Center, 21425 Spring St., Dover, is a multiuse facility which also houses facilities for the state’s Department of Health Services, Department of Veterans Affairs and DOC. The center is adjacent to the Southern Wisconsin Veterans Memorial, and has a large amount of farmland next to it. The committee noted that the center is about seven miles from Interstate 94. They also noted that the center has no readily available public transportation nearby, something that both other facilities have.
The Department of Administration is completing an analysis of the recommended sites. According to committee member Fred Royal, the NAACP Milwaukee Branch president, the Department of Administration is performing a land remediation on the Milwaukee location, as the site met all the requirements from the committee.
“The only thing that was a concern about Racine is transportation. Even if you brought the youth down to Racine, their parents might have challenges getting to Racine,” said Royal.
Royal also noted that the majority of juveniles who will be housed in these facilities will be from Milwaukee County.
When Delagrave was asked about the possibility of a Racine County Type 1 facility, he said: “I don’t think that’s going to be the case.” Kamin agreed.
If the facility does come to Dover, a DHS spokesperson said it was “too soon to say” if such a facility would have an impact on the work the state is currently doing there.
The major criteria the committee considered when making their choice on a possible site included proximity to families, workforce availability, community resources nearby, amount of land and proximity to technical colleges and universities, among others.
The driving time from Racine to the possible Milwaukee location is about 40 minutes. The Milwaukee location also has multiple public transportation options available.
“We don’t want our kids to go to La Crosse County or Eau Claire County… we want to keep them home because we do such a good job of programming. We believe the services we provide are the best.” Racine County Executive Jonathan Delagrave