By Senator Lena C. Taylor
Over the last week, I have met with business and community stakeholders regarding the potential placement of a Juvenile Correctional Facility on the far northwest side of Milwaukee. By now many of you know the basics of the story, but I will quickly recap for those who are out of the loop.
In 1970, that Wisconsin Department of Correction opened Lincoln Hills. It housed both male and female youth between 1972 and 1994, in Irma, WI. In 2011, Copper Lake opened next door to house young women. Over the years, a number of complaints were leveled at the facilities and in 2012, former Governor Scott Walker was notified that “Houston we have a problem”. Okay, it wasn’t Houston, and yes I know that wasn’t actually what was said by the crew of Apollo 13, but you get the point. There was a huge problem, the state had been told, and now what were they going to do rectify things.
After all, there were allegations of humiliating strip searches, extended solitary confinement, abusive pepper spray encounters and oppressive use of physical restraints. The facilities became the subject of state and federal investigations, multiple lawsuits alleging abuse, including a class action suit that forced major changes to the prison’s practices. More than $25 million in legal fees and settlements have been paid to former inmates.
A federal judge eventually ordered operational changes. As a part of seeking solutions, I and Rep. Chris Taylor introduced a bill to shut down Lincoln Hills. After a series of fits and starts, in 2018, Former Gov. Scott Walker signs ACT 185. Passed unanimously by lawmakers, the legislature moved to close Lincoln Hills by 2021 and build new, smaller facilities around the state. After a state study committee, a number of sites were considered. In the meantime, another bill was passed this year authorizing over $41.7 million in borrowing to build a new Type 1 juvenile correctional facility in Milwaukee.
And here comes the rub. Gov. Tony Evers has announced a location on the northwest side of Milwaukee as a potential site for the new juvenile correctional facility. Of course, it comes with passion-filled discussion. Whether business or homeowners, many have raised concerns about crime, increased traffic, property values, and public perception, of the safety of the impacted neighborhood. Inevitably, the phrase “not in my backyard” was uttered.
Listening to the discussion, I wondered how many people realize that their backyard, is Milwaukee’s backyard. The majority of juveniles affected by the relocation to Milwaukee are from Milwaukee. They are not from Irma, Brookfield, or any other suggested alternate locations. And while, I think there are many arguments to be made that support the placement of such a facility in Milwaukee, the “not in my backyard argument” just doesn’t fly, when it’s their backyard too.