MILWAUKEE — 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
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
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 said in an email to The
Associated Press that the top priority is the safety and
security of youth. Staab said the corrections department
will continue to work with counties "and stay focused
on our mission of providing treatment and programing to
youth in a safe and secure environment."
She said there were 246 youth
at Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake on Thursday, and the
department will adjust facility operations as needed as the
youth population changes.