Future of WI Juvenile Corrections: Committee on tight deadline

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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - The Juvenile Corrections Study Committee has until September first to recommend Secure Residential Care Center for Children and Youth services and programming to the Department of Corrections.

The committee is part of Act 185, which Gov. Walker signed into law in March 2018. Act 185 restructures Wisconsin's juvenile correctional system, which is part of the broader youth justice system. The act establishes new department-operated Type 1 facilities for youth adjudicated under the Serious Juvenile Offender program or convicted as adults. It also establishes county and/or tribal Secure Residential Care Centers for Children and Youth (SRCCY) for non-SJO juvenile correctional placements.

On July 25, the study committee met at the Department of Corrections in Madison, Wis. During the meeting, there was an overview of the youth justice system, overview of Act 185 and a possible model for future facilities was presented.

Twenty-five people are on the Juvenile Corrections Study Committee (JCSC) to develop recommendations for administrative rules governing the service and programming provided to juveniles in SRCCs.

One of the people on the committee is Milwaukee County Judge Joseph Donald. He asked about the timeline and the tight deadlines put out for recommendations to the DOC.

"It’s a huge subject area. Huge topic and huge problem. I appreciate and am grateful for the governor for putting me on this committee because I have been a circuit court judge for 22 years. I am in the currently in the juvenile division, so understanding the enormity of this process and the timeline we’re working under ...it was a concern I needed to raise," Donald said.

The timeline for the committee includes the following:

Sept. 1, 2018: JCSC recommendations for SRCC services and programming to DOC
Nov. 1, 2018: JCSC recommendations for Type 1 facility locations to DOC
Dec. 31, 2018: Emergency rule for SRCCs in effect
March 31, 2019: SRCC grant applications due to JCGC
July 1, 2019: JCGC submits plan to Joint Committee on Finance
Jan. 1, 2021: Youth transferred from CLS/LHS to new Type 1 facilities and SRCCs

"One thing that concerns me, and I’ve been doing this for quite a while," Donald said, "some of the kids I had early in my career, I’m now dealing with their kids. There’s a cycle here that we need to interrupt and disrupt. We can get better outcomes with this committee. This is our opportunity to change juveniles corrections."

One model was presented during the meeting to the committee to consider. The Council of Juvenile Correctional Administrators and Center for Juvenile Justice Reform at Georgetown University's McCourt School of Public Policy presented The Youth in Custody Practice Model.

The model is a research-based approach which, during a video shown during the meeting, proved to be data driven and focused on making sure staff in the facilities are properly trained to work with juveniles. There would be more equipment and empowerment to support staff to provide services. The model also aims to increase positive youth and family experiences and outcomes.

"Staff training is really important," Secretary Cathy Jess said. "They have a tough job. It isn’t an easy job. As some of us know, we’re parents, sometimes our kids aren’t good. Can you image staff in an institution all day, and not the best behaved kids? It can be frustrating."

Jess said staff is the most important resource the DOC has.

"Training them appropriately, providing resources to them and resilience and programs for them, because there can be burnout," Jess said. "Our staff is our most important resource. We really need to take care of our staff and support them in the hard job that they do."

Jess has worked in the Department of Corrections for 32 years. According to the DOC website, Jess has worked as a warden at Dodge Correctional Institution, warden of the Wisconsin Women's Correctional System, Deputy Warden at Waupun Correctional Institution and Deputy warden at Oshkosh Correctional Institution.

"I know the challenges through the years, the change that has taken place through the years," Jess said. "I know the staff and the environment they work in, both in and out of secure detention and facilities. I have compassion for the offenders we serve, whether they are incarcerated or in the streets. I have compassion for what they've been through, the trauma they’ve been through, what they’ve done in society, how can we make them better. How can we heal what has happened to them in the past to make them productive citizens."

The Youth in Custody Practice Model is being used in Texas, Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan and Connecticut. It was created four years ago.

Data collected from at least 70 different areas of activity/policy while the juveniles are in the facility will then be delivered to the DOC for filing. That data may be released if requested.

Secretary Jess motioned for the committee to use the group of experts moving forward when deciding recommendations for the DOC. The committee voted to move forward with using the group suggested.

The Act will also expand the Department of Health Services' Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center by at least 29 beds. Wisconsin's existing juvenile correctional facility, Copper Lake School/Lincoln Hills School will be converted to an adult correctional institution, which requires changes to take place no later than Jan. 1, 2021.

The way Act 185 will shape correctional placement is by three options. Offenders will be placed in either a SRCCY, Type I facility or Mendota.

In the SRCCY, it will be county or agency run. It will be youth with correctional findings or a county correctional order. The DOC will regulate the SRCCY facilities, according to the DOC website graphic.

The Type I facilities will be offenders under state correctional order. Offenders will be classified as SJO, adult jurisdiction or no other resource. The DOC will run the Type I facilities.

The third option, will be for offenders needing services in the Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center (MJTC) , which DHS will run.

Funding under Act 185 is as follows:
-$25 million will go toward DOC Type 1 facilities
-$15 million will go toward MJTC expansion
-$40 million grant program for SRCCs, 95 percent of design and construction/renovation costs, 100 percent for female facilities
-Joint Committee on Finance approval will be required

Youth Aids can be used for basic care and supervision costs in detention

There will be a bonus payment of 15 percent, up to $750,000 for counties that operate a joint SRCC, under Act 185.