SOURCE: Racine Women for Racial Justice

Why this conversation matters

With the City of Racine named the second-worst place for Black people to live in the country, much of that designation is rooted in the school to prison pipeline.

Racine County sends a significant number of people to prison, which costs taxpayers about $33,000 per year. With an overcrowded prison system that operates at 133 percent of capacity, taxpayers pay $1.3 billion a year, according to the Wisconsin Department of Corrections.

Keeping youth on track to graduate from high school, addressing mental health and substance-abuse issues, and reconnecting family and community support systems have been key to keeping youth out of prison. This also represents a profound shift from incarcerating youth to focusing on trauma-informed care.

What you need to know about the Racine County Youth Facility

Racine County plans to build a $42.5 million 70,000-square-foot regional Youth Development and Care Center in the 1700 block of Taylor Avenue.

The county’s current juvenile detention center is located on the fourth floor of the Racine County Dennis Kornwolf Service Center, 1717 Taylor Ave. This facility, however, would serve 48 youth from Racine and surrounding counties, including Kenosha, Walworth, Washington, Ozaukee, Waukesha, Rock, and Jefferson. 

The majority of the Racine Common Council have signaled that they oppose the location of the facility. But Racine County Executive Jonathan Delagrave said the location is the best choice because 90 percent of those incarcerated in the County’s current facility are from Racine. It’s important that their families have access to them.

“Our current facility — the Racine County Juvenile Detention Center — is an antiquated model of a different time,” Delegrave said in a video describing the project. “Confined spaces and prison bars are no way to help a child become a productive member of our community.”

Some Common Council members oppose Racine County Youth Facility

In a letter signed by a majority of the Common Council:

“Additionally, given that the stated goal is to get to zero detentions of County residents, and given the City of Racine’s distance from the surrounding counties that would also be sending youth to the facility, it seems like this new facility will create new challenges to achieving equity, instead of moving us closer to our shared goals around equity.”

What’s next

County officials have engaged an architectural design firm, which is finalizing the plans. The facility is expected to be completed by July 2022. The county, however, is taking public input on the project. Residents can submit their thoughts on the County’s website.

Denise Lockwood has an extensive background in traditional and non-traditional media. She has written for Patch.com, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine and the Kenosha News.