Juvenile Justice Center

Juvenile debt

(First published in the December 19, 2018 issue of City Pages)

As Marathon County weighs closing the juvenile detention facility, it’s also wrangling with growing unpaid fees


More counties are being asked to partner with Marathon County in order to keep its juvenile detention facility open. In the meantime, the sheriff’s office now is trying to collect over $400,000 in unpaid fees from the families of detainees.

Since summer, Marathon County officials have been mulling closing the juvenile detention facility. And since late 2017, the Sheriff’s Department has been trying to get a handle on the growing amount of unpaid fees to the facility.

Families of juveniles detained at the facility on Wausau’s far west side owe the county a total of $412,545 in unpaid fees. The county charges $150 day for children in secure detention. The county also collects fees from county governments for individuals housed there from outside Marathon County, but those always get paid. The problem is that many families of housed juveniles are indigent, and unable or unwilling to pay the fees, says Marathon County Chief Deputy Chad Billeb.

The county collected $2,880 in 2017 since the sheriff’s department took over this aspect of operations late that in the year, and $35,262 in 2018. Most of that money came from tax intercept collection than it did from folks simply paying their bill.

The state Department of Revenue will attempt to collect an additional $381,605 of fees owed to the county through tax intercept in the next cycle, Billeb says, but that’s unlikely to yield much because of the indigent nature of the population that owes the money. The Sheriff’s office tries to help by setting up payment plans to make it easier for families to pay, Billeb says.

Previously the county’s Social Services Department handled receivables and charged the fees on a sliding scale basis.

But collecting on past dues won’t make much difference in the decision to keep or scrap the facility, which needs a more sustainable revenue source, says Marathon County Administrator Brad Karger. As he told City Pages in September, county officials are working on gathering more outside counties to send juveniles to the facility, which can help bring the population count up to a sustainable number. Right now, only 6 of the 20 beds are typically in use on average, Karger says. That typically includes three inmates from Marathon County and three from outside the county. Filling 15 beds makes the facility financially sustainable, Karger says.

Billeb says work has begun on garnering more interest from other counties but the Sheriff’s Department has been occupied with implementing its new records system; they will prioritize it more after the holidays.

The facility is funded through 2019, so any talk of possibly closing the facility wouldn’t likely come until the county starts budgeting for 2020, Karger says. But if more outside county support doesn’t come through, Karger says he remains in favor of closing the facility.