By Greg Moore
MILWAUKEE (AP) — Milwaukee County supervisors voted Thursday to declare a state of emergency at the state’s troubled youth prisons and release $500,000 to seek alternative housing for offenders held at the Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake facilities, which are under a sweeping state and federal investigation into allegations of abuse by staffers.
The unanimous vote authorized a plan that includes suggestions from Milwaukee County Chief Judge Maxine Aldridge White, who sent a letter supporting immediate action to the board and to County Executive Chris Abele. The judge says young people sentenced to the Irma youth prisons aren’t getting appropriate care. She called for additional mental health care workers and the expansion of a program that keeps offenders in Milwaukee County.
The youth prison investigation has focused on allegations of excessive use of force at the facilities that share a campus more than 200 miles north of Milwaukee. The probe has been ongoing for more than a year. A Lincoln County judge has found reason to believe crimes occurred there, including sexual assault and physical abuse.
It now falls to the county executive to draft a plan for how to spend the emergency funding. Abele hasn’t commented on the board plan and didn’t attend the meeting because he was at the opening of a new facility for survivors of domestic violence, his spokeswoman, Melissa Baldauff, said. Abele did, however, request board funding Wednesday for a $744,000 plan that would create a team of 12 staffers who would monitor youth at Lincoln Hills. Baldauff said the pitch came from weeks of meetings with a group that includes Judge White and other stakeholders.
Abele’s chief concern, Baldauff said, is “reaching our shared goal of keeping these kids safe and ensuring they have the supportive services they need.”
Board Chairman Theodore Lipscomb Sr. said the county executive’s plan will be funded through the Department of Health and Human Services budget, and the requested spending was approved with Thursday’s vote. The additional $500,000 would go toward expanding Milwaukee County housing and services for young offenders by more than 40 beds.
“The board’s plan recognized the need for greater expansion,” which White requested in her letter, Lipscomb said.
Wisconsin Department of Corrections spokeswoman Joy Staab didn’t immediately return a call or email seeking comment.