State officials are considering a new secure juvenile corrections facility in Milwaukee County that would shift dozens of offenders from the facilities in Lincoln County.
Wisconsin currently has only two secure juvenile facilities, both on a campus in Irma, roughly 30 miles north of Wausau: Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls. Both have been under criminal investigation for more than two years amid allegations of prisoner abuse and neglect.
Milwaukee County officials want to keep juvenile offenders close to home to make it easier for families to visit. Gov. Scott Walker says he is open to having the state help pay for such a facility.
The state closed Waukesha County’s Ethan Allen School in 2011, a move that sent all young male offenders in Wisconsin to Lincoln Hills. Southern Oaks in Racine County was closed at the same time, with girls to be placed at the Copper Lake facility on the Lincoln Hills grounds. The closures were part of cost-saving measures in Walker’s 2011 budget.
Opening a new facility in Milwaukee County would make financial sense, insiders say. Individual counties are billed about $292 per day for each offender housed at Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake. That’s far more expensive than keeping offenders near their own communities, officials say, though exact cost estimates were not immediately released.
About 200 youths from across the state are currently housed at the two facilities in Irma. More than half are from the southeastern portion of the state.