RACINE – City of Racine leaders, including Mayor Cory Mason and a majority of the Racine Common Council, have gone on record in opposition to the proposed location of a youth detention facility within the city limits.
In a letter to Racine County Executive Jonathan Delagrave and the Racine County Board issued Monday, the city officials stated that they were appreciative of the thought and planning that has gone into the facility but are adamantly opposed to plans to build the 70,000-square-foot facility in the 1700 block of Taylor Avenue – or anywhere else in the city. The county’s current juvenile detention center is located on the fourth floor of the Racine County Dennis Kornwolf Service Center, 1717 Taylor Ave.
“While we fully recognize the need to make significant improvements to the current facility at Taylor Avenue, at this time we are opposed to the construction of this new youth detention facility in the City of Racine,” the letter stated. “We are prepared to direct City leadership and staff to pursue all possible options to prevent this facility from being constructed at the proposed Taylor Avenue location.”
Planned $42.5 Million Regional Facility
The planned Racine County Youth Development and Care Center would serve up to 48 youth from Racine County as well as seven other Southeastern Wisconsin counties (Kenosha, Walworth, Washington, Ozaukee, Waukesha, Rock, and Jefferson). Nearly all of its $42.5 million facility’s price tag would be covered by a $40 million Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC) grant. The balance would be financed with county-issued bonds.
The new facility would replace the county youth detention center that city and county officials agree is outmoded But, it would also serve youth from the Southeastern Wisconsin region that have been sent to the state’s Lincoln Hills youth prison. The state is planning to eventually close that site.
The Racine city officials are particularly unhappy that the county wants to build the new facility at the existing Kornwolf Center site and quietly purchased the former Brannan Lumber Co. property located across the street, as part of the project. According to a recent Racine Journal Times report, the Racine County Board voted to approve the Brannan property purchase for $290,000 back on July 28, but its planned use wasn’t shared with the Common Council until a formal presentation by Delagrave and county staff on December 15.
“We recognize that you and your team are striving to create a facility that is more informed by best practices, including trauma-informed care, and that will no doubt provide more holistic services for youth,” the letter stated.
But, the Racine officials also expressed “significant concern” about the creation of a regional youth detention facility. “While we heard and appreciate your desire to get this facility to ‘zero detentions’ of Racine County youth, there are no guarantees that you can accomplish this goal and instead, it is far more probable that this new facility will ultimately house both Racine County youth and dozens of youth in crisis from all of our surrounding counties,” they wrote.
The officials objected to the proposed facility site “in a key corridor, in the middle of a residential neighborhood, and within blocks of one of our Community Schools at Knapp Elementary, would also represent a significant step back from the progress we have been working to achieve to stabilize and enhance this diverse City neighborhood,” the letter stated.
The letter was also critical of the lack of input from neighboring residents and the project’s possible impact on racial equality.
“Just as importantly, we are troubled by the message that placing this new facility in the City of Racine would send to our residents,” the letter stated. “The City is focused on tackling systemic racial inequalities and disparities that have plagued our community for too long. Our efforts to ensure opportunity and advancement for our African American and Latinx residents are not furthered by the construction of a new detention facility within the City limits that we fear – and the data unfortunately indicates – will overwhelmingly detain African American and Latinx youth.”
Modern Approach to Juvenile Treatment
Delagrave’s office declined to directly respond to Monday’s letter. The Racine County Eye was provided with background information on the extensive months of planning to create a modern approach for treating juveniles through trauma-informed care. This includes establishing a school-like setting that provides vocational training.
Delagrave summarized the planning in a “Constituent Corner” newsletter issued in mid-December.
“Over the past two years, diverse community perspectives on the Youth Justice Advisory Committee and in public meetings and forums have helped create the vision for the Racine County Youth Development and Care Center,” he wrote. “But our work is far from finished. As the facility takes shape, we will continue to solicit public input and work with the community to make sure we do right by Racine County children and families.”
Delagrave indicated to city officials that the Brannan site purchase was kept quiet because of concerns that if the seller knew the property was being acquired by the county, the seller might increase the asking price.
In addition to the mayor, the city letter was signed by all but two of the 15 Racine Common Council members. Alders Jeffrey Peterson of the 6th District and Henry Perez of the 12th District did not sign the document. Nether had responded to emailed requests for comment by Monday evening.