By Nyesha Stone
Youth prison reform is a hot topic right now, given that Lincoln Hills School for boys and Copper Lake School for girls are expected to close within the next two years. Last week, the Department of Health & Human Resources held an open discussion with the community about its future plans for troubled youth.
Mary Jo Meyers, Milwaukee County Department of Health and Human Services; David Muhammad, Deputy Director of Division of Youth and Family Services; and Mark Mertens, Administrator of Division of Youth and Family Services presented their plan: Project Rise. It is an alternative option to what the state currently does for troubled youth.
Instead of putting the youth in prisons and jails, the alternative is secure facilities that focus on rehabilitation and not punishment. According to Muhammad, they’re down to two locations for the new facility— W. Mil Rd. or N. Teutonia Ave.
“We’re working on an aggressive timeline,” he said, because the facility must be built and ready to open by Jan. 1, 2021, since Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake will close on Jan. 20 of that year.
Meyers said the difference about the what the youth are currently in to what they will be transferred to is the care and resources they will receive. It’s about surrounding the youth in resources, which is why the facility will be in city, said Meyers.
This Milwaukee facility is only one facet of Project Rise. According to DHHS’s site, Project Rise is adding an additional secure facility in Southeastern Wisconsin. This decision is facing lots of scrutiny.
There are lots of talks within the community that our youth need trauma-informed care, mentorship and other options other than solitude and unsafe rooms.
A good portion of the youth from Lincoln Hills and Copper Laker will be released. The remaining youth may be transferred to a different prison or to one of the future secure facilities.
At the end there was time for a Q&A with the number one concern being how do we keep these new facilities safer than what we currently have. Mertens said building better relationships with the youth will help create a safer environment. Meyers added that specific training will be provided for all the staff on how deal with troubled youth.
To find out more about Project Rise, visit county.milwaukee.gov/projectrise.