Milwaukee Common Council supports new juvenile prison on the city's northwest side to replace Lincoln Hills

·4 min read
A light industrial area at 7930 W. Clinton Ave. is the proposed site for a youth prison to replace Lincoln Hills.
A light industrial area at 7930 W. Clinton Ave. is the proposed site for a youth prison to replace Lincoln Hills.

A proposed site for a new youth prison in Milwaukee to replace Lincoln Hills gained its first key approval Friday from the city's Common Council, just days after the plan was announced.

The 11-1 vote in support of the measure followed brief comments from council members about the upcoming process and assurances that there would be opportunities for the public to weigh in as neighbors expressed alarm about their lack of input ahead of the vote.

Ald. Milele Coggs was the lone vote against the legislation expressing the city's support for the proposed site.

"I think it needs to be stated for the record that our action today is merely for the purpose of satisfying a statutory requirement" in the state legislation that funded a new juvenile facility, Ald. Robert Bauman said. "Our approval today does not circumvent or overrule or override the normal process of a zoning change and any other approvals that may be required in order to build this facility."

Ald. Marina Dimitrijevic said there would be "plenty of opportunity" for public input over the course of the process.

Gov. Tony Evers' administration announced the proposed site at 7930 W. Clinton Ave. on Tuesday. The 6.7-acre former vehicle emissions inspection center is largely surrounded by light industrial buildings with residential streets farther to its north, south and west.

More: Lincoln Hills juvenile prison was set to close in July 2021. So why are judges still sending children there?

The site was praised by local advocates and officials working to bring kids back to Milwaukee from Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls youth prison north of Wausau — and those seeking to preserve a separate state facility in Milwaukee for men that had been considered as a possible location for the local youth prison. The Lincoln Hills campus is more than 200 miles from Milwaukee

The aldermanic district where the facility would be located is currently without representation on the Common Council after Ald. Chantia Lewis was removed from office as part of a plea deal related to misconduct in office last month.

The lack of communication from city officials raised concerns among some nearby residents, about 10 of whom wrote to the council expressing their opposition ahead of Friday's meeting.

"As a resident of the 9th Aldermanic (a district without representation on the Council at this time), it is alarming that residents have not been notified of this project in advance and have only learned of this through the publication of articles in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Urban Milwaukee," resident Kari Gipson wrote in a letter to the Common Council opposing the site.

Gipson also wrote that it was alarming that council members who do not live in the district were "rushing to vote on a matter just because the state and the governor thinks it's a 'good location.'" Gipson also argued that the facility could drive away new businesses the district has been trying to draw.

Residents of the street closest to the new location had mixed reactions when told of the plan by the Journal Sentinel earlier this week.

The legislation taken up by the council Friday expresses the city's support for the proposed site. The location must have the city's support to move forward under a state law that approved $42 million for the new juvenile facility, which would be run by the state.

The council resolution states that it is "only the first in a long series of steps to obtain the required approvals for the construction" and that its passage "does not circumvent or negate any authority of the City of Milwaukee to proceed with the necessary rezoning process and procedures."

There are also a series of steps that must take place at the state level before construction could begin.

Lawmakers have long struggled to close the problem-plagued youth prison. It houses young people with the highest needs who have committed serious crimes or are repeat offenders.

State lawmakers promised to close Lincoln Hills more than four years ago, in response to dangerous conditions that persisted for years at the prison and made it an unsafe environment for both staff and the young people incarcerated there. The state has paid more than $25 million in settlement and legal fees. 

Contact Alison Dirr at 414-224-2383 or Follow her on Twitter @AlisonDirr

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Milwaukee council supports new Lincoln Hills replacement in first step