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The Future of Youth Justice in Our Community

Act 185 in Milwaukee County

Project Rise

What Is Act 185?

Act 185 refers to 2017 Wisconsin Act 185, a piece of legislation passed unanimously by the Wisconsin State Legislature in March 2018, and published into law on March 31, 2018.

The law sets the Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls, both youth correctional facilities in Irma, Wisconsin, operated by the Wisconsin State Department of Corrections, on a path to close by January 2021.

Act 185 will provide grants to local government entities, to establish their own, local residential care facilities, as well as to the Wisconsin State Department of Corrections to create smaller, distributed secure facilities. 

This page is the information hub for everything about the DYFS youth secure care center, including building and location plans when they become publicly available, as well as program and aftercare plans for youth housed in the facility.

Ultimately, two secure residential facilities are planned for Milwaukee County for youth involved in the justice system.  

One will be built and operated by the Wisconsin State Department of Corrections, the other will be built and operated by the Milwaukee County DHHS Division of Youth and Family Services.

To see what DYFS has already accomplished in its model for youth justice reform, visit the Project Rise information page.

Our Objective

For seven years, Milwaukee County has worked to redesign its entire approach to youth justice in order to invest in evidence-based, healing-focused and community-centric solutions that put young people on a path to empower their own safe, healthy, meaningful lives.

Over recent years, it was found that youth placed at the Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls in northern Irma, Wisconsin were having experiences that generated negative outcomes post-release.  Since that revelation, the Milwaukee County DHHS Division of Youth & Family Services has worked diligently to reduce the number of youth sent from our community to those facilities down to zero.

2017 Wisconsin Act 185, the legislature that ends the use of those two facilities as a youth prison is a major step in achieving that goal, bringing our youth back home, and exposing them to programming and methods that are proven to help young people succeed once they return home.

Now, one of the biggest responsibilities placed on DYFS is to create a new youth secure care center, for youth under 17 years of age and with a non-"serious" disposition.

Our aims for this center are the same as our core mission for youth justice: Building safer neighborhoods, treating young people as individuals, fostering their development and rewriting their futures.

The task is big, the timeline is tight, but we have the right people on the job, and this is the place where we will keep you up to date about what is happening.

Youth Secure Care Center Fact Sheet


Youth Corrections Proposal Sent to State

The Milwaukee County Courthouse looking west

by: Graham Kilmer - Urban Milwaukee

Milwaukee County hopes to fundamentally change the way it treats juvenile justice in the coming years, but it may be limited by the structure of state funding...

Read the Article


Lincoln Hills Use of Pepper Spray Criticized

DYFS Administrator Mark Mertens


by: Alison Dirr - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Universal Health Services, a Pennsylvania-based private behavioral health hospital operator, plans to build a $33 million hospital in West Allis...

Read the Article


The Capitol Report: Four Counties Vie for Funds to Build New Juvenile Detention Facilities

DHHS Director Mary Jo Meyers


Brown, Dane, Milwaukee and Racine counties have submitted applications to build detention facilities for less-serious juvenile offenders...

Read the Article


County Proposal Replaces Youth Prison

Overhead view of Lincoln Hills School for Boys, Copper Lake School for Girls

by: Corri Hess - Wisconsin Public Radio

With the closure of Wisconsin’s troubled youth prisons delayed, Milwaukee County has submitted a new proposal to state officials to bring the youth housed there home sooner...

Read the Article


With Potential Gap in Funding for Juvenile Detention Centers, Counties in 'Holding Pattern'

Person setting up chairs in a classroom

by: Riley Vetterkind - WiscNews

Although it’s twice what lawmakers initially proposed, the $80 million set aside in the state’s two-year budget for counties to build new juvenile treatment centers may still not be enough to complete the juvenile justice overhaul state lawmakers had envisioned...

Read the Article


'UPFRONT' Recap: Abele Wants to Set National Model for Youth Corrections

County Executive Chris Abele, DHHS Director Mary Jo Meyers

by: UPFRONT - WISN 12 News

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele said he hopes the county’s plan to renovate its existing juvenile center into a newer residential care center for young offenders will become "the new national model" for youth corrections...

See the Interview


Milwaukee County Proposes Multiple Local Facilities for Youths Held at Lincoln Hills

Vel R Phillips Youth & Family Justice Center entrance

by: Alison Dirr - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Milwaukee County is no longer proposing to build a single secure residential care center for some Milwaukee youths held at the troubled Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls north of Wausau...

See the Interview


How a New Youth Corrections Leadership Group Is Helping Milwaukee Close Youth Prisons

Vincent Schiraldi, Mark Mertens, Gladys Carrion, and Patrick McCarthy speaking

by: Michael Fitzgerald - The Chronicle of Social Change

After three years on the job, the Milwaukee County official who oversees juvenile justice finds his system at a crossroads. The Wisconsin state legislature passed a bill last March closing two youth prisons after a criminal probe and multiple lawsuits alleged abuse and neglect of youth, alarming lawmakers...

Read the Article


Want More? Click Here to Visit the DHHS News Archives

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Archives contain material back to September 2018


Frequently Asked Questions

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  What is 2017 Wisconsin Act 185?

2017 Wisconsin Act 185 is the State mandate that Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls will be closed by January 1, 2021.

  What is Project Rise?

Project Rise is a community-wide movement in Milwaukee that paves a positive future for youth in the justice system and creates safer neighborhoods for everyone. The youth justice reform initiatives are spearheaded by the Milwaukee County DHHS Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS).

  How are Act 185 and Project Rise related?

Milwaukee County sees Act 185 as an opportunity to bring our youth back home. As part of this plan, Milwaukee County has proposed a new secure care center for youth with less-severe offenses. The youth secure care center is a critical piece of Milwaukee County's larger youth justice reform initiative. The new center will focus on education, treatment and skill building, restorative justice programming and reintegration of youth back into our communities and workforces.

  How is the State’s plan different than the County’s?

The State Department of Corrections is planning to build Type I correctional facilities for youth who are in the Serious Juvenile Offender (SJO) Program. At least one facility will be located in Southeast Wisconsin.  

The County is planning to build a new residential youth secure care center for youth who have committed less-severe offenses that will include programming and workforce training to help integrate our young people back into the community. 

  Why does the County want to build a new facility instead of using an existing facility?

There is no existing facility that meets the criteria for the youth secure care center location, or the existing facilities would cost more to renovate than to build new. The State is providing grant funding to help cover the cost of building a new center.

  How does the youth secure care center fit into the Milwaukee County plan?

This center is part of the youth justice reform plan to offer a residential location with programming and rehabilitation services that will help individuals receive the needed treatment to heal and empower them to play meaningful and positive roles in our community.

  What was the criteria used to evaluate the various site locations?

Locations were evaluated based on environmental safety, land availability, proximity to youths’ families, neighborhood resources and access to public transportation.

  What type of youth will be living in this youth secure care center?

Youth who have committed offenses that qualify under the statute for placement in a youth correctional facility, but not youth committed to the Serious Juvenile Offender (SJO) Program.

  How will a youth secure care center help youth, families, and neighborhoods get more access to resources?

As part of the Project Rise initiative, Milwaukee County continuously looks to partner with community-centered organizations, join local leadership councils and advocate for needed resources related to education, housing, local businesses, and public safety coordination. Keeping these youth and their families connected to community programs and resources close to home means our youth will be less likely to re-enter the system.

Get Involved

For this project to be successful, we have to make sure we are responsive to our community. Tell us what you hope to see, and what you are concerned about. See how you can get information, or contribute, below.


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1220 W. Vliet St.

Suite 301

Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53205

Our Vision

Together, creating healthy communities.

Our Mission

Empowering safe, healthy, meaningful lives.

Our Values

Partnership, Respect, Integrity, 

Diversity, Excellence

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