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WI Legislative Bulliten 6/30/10

Posted by Chris Liebenthal on June 30, 2010

Update on Governor’s Juvenile Corrections Review Committee

This week, the Governor’s “Juvenile Corrections Review Committee” issued a report on juvenile corrections.   On June 21, the committee held its final meeting to decide which of the Wisconsin’s two male juvenile correctional schools would close to reduce the projected $25 million deficit in the Division of Juvenile Corrections’ budget.

The report was delivered to Governor Jim Doyle and DOC Secretary Rick Raemisch, who will make the final decision about whether or not close Ethan Allen (EAS) or Lincoln Hills (LHS).   The report is expected to be posted on the state DOC website soon.

After seven weeks of intensive deliberations, including the dissemination of countless reports, tours of both schools, and presentations from various stakeholders (including AFSCME’s Marty Beil and Susan McMurray), the 11- person committee failed to get solid majority of committee member support for closing either school.  Those from the southern part of the state voted to support EAS, those from the northern part of the state supported keeping LHS open.  Three of the four judges abstained.

The final report is unimpressive and weak.  We were disappointed that the committee did not include, as a cornerstone of its report, a recommendation to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction to 17, so that teen offenders can get the services they need in the juvenile, rather than the adult, justice system.  We also were disappointed that the committee did not tackle the fundamental problem in juvenile corrections, which is that counties pay the full cost of housing and treating youth in the state-run juvenile schools.  This is a flawed system that is not working for anyone .

What member of the Governor’s committee learned:

The committee members were extremely impressed with both institutions. During tours of the schools, they heard and saw first-hand the strong and successful programs available to help troubled teens and provide them with the educational opportunities they simply cannot get in their communities. They realized that the JCIs are, indeed, successful schools that offer intensive AODA, mental health, health care, and educational opportunities. Committee members also expressed a new level of understanding that most of the kids in EAS and LHS have serious and co-occurring mental health, medical, cognitive, developmental, substance abuse, sexual and social disorders that beg for intensive treatment in a secure setting that the JCIs are best suited to provide.

Why the committee was created:

The DJC has indicated that consolidating the boys into one facility was feasible based on a declining population. However, DJC also reported that closing either LHS or EAS would save $13-$14 million.  DJC also reported that closing either would not significantly lower the high daily rate that counties pay to send teen offenders to the schools.  The current daily rate is $275.

At the May 21st meeting, some committee members, including some from the Milwaukee area, expressed a strong preference for closing Ethan Allen. By June 21st, however, there was a shift in the attitude of committee members.  Advocates, counties and policy makers from southeast Wisconsin were dismayed to hear of the focus on closing EAS, and they began to lobby committee members to thwart that recommendation.

What’s next?

The committee’s failure to make a recommendation does not mean that this issue has been put to rest. The Department of Corrections has the authority to take action to close the budget gap.  Given the fact that this is an election year, it is unclear what the Doyle Administration will do.  If a decision is made to close EAS, lawmakers and advocates from the Milwaukee area will strenuously object.  Likewise, if the decision is made to close LHS, objections from northern legislators and others will be raised.  It is possible that any decision will be held off until after the November 2010 elections.

AFSCME’s position on the JCI deficit and the future of the schools:

Closing either LHS or EAS does not serve the needs of teen offenders in Wisconsin.  It will not make our communities safer.  It does not fix the high daily rate that counties pay to send teens to the juvenile schools, and it will not solve the Department of Corrections’ $25 million deficit.  We will be back fighting this battle a year from now, even if the state decides to close a JCI, because that only fixes half the deficit.  Closing a JCI right now makes no sense.

Given these factors, AFSCME thinks it is wise to hold off on closing either JCI until other options can be considered.  We understand the budget deficit is troubling, but that is no reason to squander a vital resource such as EAS or LHS and close it, especially since closure won’t solve the budget problems.

Policy makers need to take a step back and look at the big picture of juvenile corrections and juvenile justice. To that end, we have developed a “to do” list for decision makers.

Here’s a “to do” list for policy makers interested in creating a juvenile justice system that will do justice to the most troubled teen offenders in our state:

1.       Raise the age of jurisdiction for the juvenile justice system from 16 to 17.  It is time for lawmakers to change the law so that all teens are tried in the juvenile system.

2.       Revisit the 30-year old “Youth Aids” state aid program which gives state money to counties to decide how teens within their counties shall be served.  Some of that state aid gets sent right back to the state in the form of payments to the DOC for treating teen offenders at the juvenile correctional institutions.  This form of money shuffling is inefficient and is no longer serving the needs of counties or the teens themselves.

3.       Keep Ethan Allen, Lincoln Hills and Southern Oaks Girls Schools open.  Don’t squander these vital resources, and find a better way to pay for the services that provided (see below).

4.       Do the research on why fewer kids are being placed in the JCIs.  Some note that it is because crime is dropping; but we say that it’s also because the daily rates are so high counties are reluctant to recommend JCI placement.  Find out how many and where kids were placed before being sent to the JCIs.  Find out how many times kids were arrested before going to the schools.  This information was not requested or provided to members of the Governor’s committee.

5.       Strive to get the fixed costs of all three schools moved off the county’s dime and funded with state tax dollars.

6.       Seek federal dollars for the costs of providing mental health services to teens at all three JCIs

7.       Seek federal aid for school breakfast and lunch programs, just like the public school system.

8.       Seek a federal waiver from Medicaid rules to allow the use of Medicaid dollars for juvenile health care costs.

9.       Have school aids “follow the teen”.  The JCIs are officially-recognized public schools, but they do not receive school aids dollars when teens are committed there.

10.   Bring the 100 or so teens aged 17 who are incarcerated in the state’s adult correctional system back into the juvenile system and have the state pay the bill.

11.   Do a complete inventory of all of the county and community correctional services available to teens, and assess the equity in the system.  Do kids in Marathon County have the same community resources available as kids in LaCrosse or Racine or Dane County?  Should the community services be part of the state’s responsibility?  As it is now, Wisconsin has a bifurcated system– the state is in charge of the secure treatment for teens, while counties run the community programs.  Is this in the best interest of teens?  Who is watching over this array of services?

12.   Redefine recidivism. Two years ago the state decided to change the way it measures recidivism. Until recently, the recidivism rate was based on youth who were committed to a JCI or adult prison within two years of release from a JCI.  Today, the DOC is using a complicated formula based on a three year cycle that considers re-commitments based on probation failures and more.  Under the new definition, recidivism rates appear to have tripled for teen offenders, which is not accurate.

13.   Redefine recidivism and look for a way to measure success, instead of failure.  Recidivism measures failure.  We have no way to measure ‘success’ for teens in trouble.  This must change.

14.   Remind policy makers that treating and serving juvenile delinquents is expensive because of the myriad of challenging issues present in these youth.  Youth in JCIs receive education delivered in small classes that are appropriate to their education and developmental levels, comprehensive medical care, access to social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, AODA and sex offender treatment programs.  The state has an obligation to provide the most appropriate care for at risk youth, not just the cheapest.

15.   Reconsider “aftercare” options for kids.  One of the glaring omissions in Wisconsin’s juvenile system is the lack of transitional care for kids, which undermines the work done at the JCIs and likely is a factor in the recidivism rates.

These are but a few ideas that AFSCME has advanced to members of the Governor’s Juvenile Corrections Review Committee and to legislators as well.  Most of these ideas have been floated in the past and come from the DOC’s own 2007 Juvenile Corrections Rate Review Study, prepared by DOC’s Silvia Jackson.

AFSCME members are urged to share these ideas with the Governor, state legislators, advocates, parents of teens at the JCIs, and anyone else truly interested in improving services for troubled teens in Wisconsin. For more information, contact AFSCME at 608-836-6666.


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