Dunn County Board discusses juvenile detention facilities

By LeAnn R. Ralph

MENOMONIE  —  A bill recently passed by the Wisconsin Assembly would require counties to provide for juvenile detention.

Under the bill passed by the Assembly, AB953, the state would shut down the Lincoln Hills School for boys and the Copper Lake School for girls and would make it the responsibility of counties to contract out for juvenile detention or build their own facilities to house juvenile offenders, said Steve Rasmussen, county board supervisor from Boyceville and chair of the Dunn County Board, at the February 21 meeting.

[emember_protected] The state would pay 95 percent of the cost of the facilities, Rasmussen said.

Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake are the state’s secure juvenile correctional facilities for boys and girls who are in the custody of the state Department of Corrections.

Dunn County could remodel the second floor of the Community Services Building (the former Dunn County Health Care Center) and could also house juveniles from other counties, Rasmussen said.

Dunn County also could contract with Eau Claire for juvenile detention, he said.

“I am appalled at the cost to Dunn County for juvenile detention,” said Larry Bjork, county board supervisor from Menomonie.

The proposed legislation would house the most serious juvenile offenders who commit serious crimes, such as murder or first-degree sexual assault, in new facilities under the supervision of the Department of Corrections.

The Assembly bill would require the state to build at least one new secure youth prison at an estimated cost of $25 million.

The bill also would require the state to spend $15 million to add capacity to the Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center in Madison and would provide $40 million in grants for counties to help with renovating or building their own juvenile detention centers.

Before it could become law, the state Senate would have to approve the bill as well, and Governor Scott Walker would have to sign the bill into law.

“I am concerned about the the juvenile corrections issue,” Rasmussen told the other county board members.

The bill would require counties to provide residential care facilities for children and youth as of July 1, 2020, said James Tripp, county board supervisor from Menomonie.

The state is getting out of juvenile detention and is putting the counties in charge, he said.

Research indicates juvenile offenders do better if they are closer to their families and their communities, Rasmussen noted.

The cost for remodeling the basement and the first floor for county offices and making other updates to the former health care center was about $12 million.

If the state provides $40 million in grants for the 72 counties to build new facilities or to remodel existing buildings to house juvenile offenders, each county would receive about $500,000.

Rasmussen said he also is concerned about unfunded mandates from the state as well as the usurping of local control. [/emember_protected]