MILWAUKEE COUNTY -- Milwaukee County is one step closer to opening a treatment facility for juvenile offenders that would serve as an alternative to youth prisons like Lincoln Hills.
The facility off 32nd and Hampton is scheduled to open as soon as this summer. On Thursday, Jan. 25, the Department of Health and Human Services got the green light from the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors Finance and Audit Committee to enter into a contract with the non-profit that will run the program.
It's a program that advocates call a game changer.
"Some youth can be safely treated and maintained in a less secure setting and that's what this program is for," said Mark Mertens, with the Department of Health and Human Services.
Mertens said the facility will serve as an alternative to youth prisons.
"Provide some good options for our judges and prevent the youth from further penetrating the juvenile justice system," said Mertens.
The plans were made public shortly after Governor Scott Walker called on lawmakers to approve a measure that closes the troubled Lincoln Hills youth prison outside of Wausau by the end of the session. But Mertens said the program is unrelated.
"We've also been planning for this independently for some time because we recognize that it's a resource that we need in the community," Mertens said.
Twenty-four people would live and attend school at the facility at a time.
"It could be some youth that commit some serious offenses, some felonies," said Mertens.
For approximately six months, the youth and their families will receive therapy during their stay, followed by another several months of at-home therapy once they're released.
"Because if we leave them to their own devices, they go back to their anti-social supports," said Mertens.
It's a model Mertens says has proven successful in other cities, both when it comes to protecting the community and also giving young people the opportunity to grow from past mistakes.
Governor Walker has proposed opening up six regional juvenile detention centers. While it's likely at least one will be located in Milwaukee County, nothing is set in stone and would be separate from this treatment facility.