No decision reached on closing a male juvenile facility

But panel leans toward shutting Ethan Allen
Reblogged:
Mike Johnson of the Journal Sentinel
Posted: June 21, 2010

Madison – A governor-appointed committee charged with recommending whether to close one of the state’s two male juvenile correctional facilities to help erase a budget deficit could not come to an agreement on whether to close Ethan Allen or Lincoln Hills schools.

The sentiment of the 11-member committee was to recommend closing Ethan Allen in the Town of Delafield in Waukesha County and consolidate it with Lincoln Hills. But the panel fell one vote short of the six-vote majority needed to send the recommendation on to Gov. Jim Doyle and Department of Corrections Secretary Rick Raemisch.

The vote to close Ethan Allen was 5-3.

A similar vote to recommend shuttering Lincoln Hills in northern Wisconsin and combine operations at Ethan Allen failed. Only three people voted in favor of that option.

Three Circuit Court judges who serve on the Governor’s Juvenile Corrections Review Committee abstained from the vote. Two of the judges, Mary Triggiano of Milwaukee County Circuit Court and Neal Nielsen of Vilas County Circuit Court, were not at the meeting, but Judge Glenn Yamahiro, of Milwaukee County, said he was authorized to abstain on their behalf. Yamahiro told committee co-chairs Jim Moeser and Greg Lewis that the three thought they could offer advice to the panel, but that the decision on whether to shutter a juvenile facility should be left to other branches of the government.

The five members who voted to recommend the closure of Ethan Allen said they thought Lincoln Hills was a better-operated facility and the staff there was working together more cohesively.

“My gut feeling is staff at Lincoln are pulling on the same end of the rope,” said committee member John Burmaster, a retired educator from Gleason.

But two committee members, the Rev. Greg Lewis of St. Gabriel’s Church, Milwaukee, and Bishop Charles McClelland of Word of Hope Ministries, Milwaukee, said Ethan Allen should remain open because about 70% of the juveniles incarcerated at Ethan Allen and Lincoln Hills are from southeast Wisconsin.

Closing Ethan Allen would make it difficult for family members of those incarcerated to make the 2 1/2-hour trip to Lincoln Hills for visits.

Family visits are important to rehabilitation efforts, they said.

“One thing we can’t do is move that 70% of the population to Lincoln Hills,” said Lewis, the committee’s co-chair.

But those who supported closing Ethan Allen said family visits, which are low at both sites, should be given less weight in the decision-making process.

The state Division of Juvenile Corrections is facing a $25 million budget deficit over the next two years and is looking for ways to cut spending. The state could save between $13 million and $14 million by closing one of the male juvenile facilities.

State officials say consolidating the male juvenile detention centers must be explored because the male youth arrest rate is down 22% since 2001 and court-ordered commitments have plummeted. The average daily population fell by about 35% between 2001 and 2008, according to department statistics.

Shuttering one of the facilities would put some people out of work, although the exact number is not known. Ethan Allen employs 232 people, while Lincoln Hills employs 193. State officials said Monday that about 100 workers would need to be added to one of the facilities if the other were to close.

Doyle formed the committee in April, and it has been reviewing the male juvenile institutions over the last two months, including visiting each site.

The panel, which concluded that the state cannot afford to keep both institutions open, plans to issue a final report to Raemisch, who is expected to forward it to Doyle by the end of the month.

After the meeting, Raemisch said the state probably will have to make a decision soon on what to do with the juvenile institutions. Population numbers continue to drop and something must be done because of the projected deficit, he said.

Raemisch said the 5-3 vote to close Ethan Allen was something state officials will take into consideration as they move forward.

After the meeting, Moeser said closing one of the facilities is still on the table.

“I think you saw strong support that we can’t maintain both of them, either fiscally or programmatically,” he said.

Costs for housing juveniles have risen from about $187 a day in 2005 to $270 this year, according to the department.