We were frankly surprised at the sour reaction some Racine City Council members gave the county’s proposal to open a $45 million center for at-risk-youth on or near the site of the old Brannum lumberyard on the city’s south side.
Part of it may have been pique at being left out of the loop.
Ald. John Tate II, president of the City Council, complained that no residents of his district had been made aware that the proposed center is to be built near them — not even he: “It’s exceptionally frustrating when the alderman of the area wasn’t told this was coming to the neighborhood.”
Such pique would perhaps be understandable were it not for the fact that, according to more recent news reports, Mayor Cory Mason and other city officials had learned of Racine County’s plan back in July. They apparently didn’t think the county would move so fast and expected further discussions, so they didn’t alert the City Council. If Tate has any complaints, he should take them up with City Hall.
Other City Council members complained that building a new center in a primarily Black neighborhood would simply not look good.
Although the Brannum Lumber property — which has been dormant for a dozen years — abuts some residential neighborhoods where Blacks, whites and Latinos live, it is in a commercial district and is also just across Taylor Avenue from the county’s Dennis Kornwolf Service Center, which houses the county’s current juvenile center.
So the proposed center, which would have space for as many as 48 inmates from five southeastern Wisconsin counties, would merely replace an existing operation. Right now, the plans call for building the new center on the Kornwolf Center site and using the Brannum property for a parking lot, although those could change.
There were reasons the purchase of the Brannum property was kept quiet. It was bought by Racine County through a broker to keep the price down. The county’s consideration of the purchase was done behind closed doors in a procedure allowed under state law. So yes, city aldermen were not in the loop, but there was good reason for that.
More perplexing is the notion that building a juvenile center in a primarily Black neighborhood would look bad. Tate said council members had hoped the center would be outside the city, and that the choice of the site actually under consideration reeked of racist policies of the past.
That argument runs afoul of the expressed goal of the new center: That is, to take a modern approach to rehabilitating at-risk juveniles by working with both the young people themselves and their families.
As a recent Journal Times report put it: “Rather than a detention center, the goal is to make the facility a true family resource center where a number of services will be provided, such as skills to career, education and mental health — without any juveniles actually residing there long-term.”
Those goals are furthered by having a center that’s near families whose children might be held there. So having a center in the city makes sense since, as Racine County Executive Jonathan Delagrave noted, 90 percent of the juveniles from Racine County who are now housed in the existing, nearby county juvenile-detention center live within city limits.
If you put it in Union Grove or Burlington, for example, you would make it much harder for these families to visit.
As Delagrave put it: “If you can’t work with families, and you’re returning youth back to the environment that he came from and there’s no changes, it’s really hard for that at-risk youth to overcome a lot of the hurdles that got him into our residential care facility in the first place.”
The fuss over the youth center reminds us of previous disputes in the city and state. The school district’s busing policies, which attempted to end segregation by sending minority youths to suburban schools like Gifford, were eventually abandoned in favor of having neighborhood schools — in part because minority families demanded that they be closer to their children’s schools so they could reach out to teachers and be more involved.
And when the state, in a cost-saving attempt, sent adult prisoners to privately run prisons in Tennessee and elsewhere, there was a hue and cry that the action had prevented families from visiting and keeping in contact with incarcerated relatives. We agreed with that point of view. Wisconsin later ended the practice.
The vision for a new juvenile facility that brings young people together with their families and provides instructional and vocational opportunities is a good one — and we hope it succeeds. We would hope Ald. Tate and others on the council get past their pique at being left out of the loop and embrace the larger plan to rehabilitate young people early on and keep them out of the school-to-prison pipeline.
– Journal Times