Department of Health and Human Services

Project Rise

Changing Our Approach to Youth Justice

We recognize that young people are still maturing and developing, which is why we’ve changed our approach to youth justice. More than just a model, Project Rise is a movement to help kids rewrite their futures and to help us all create safer neighborhoods in Milwaukee County.


Changing Our Focus

On any given day in the United States, nearly 53,000 youth are held in youth justice facilities1. Detached from their families and the schools they once attended, many of these youth never graduate from high school, they struggle to hold jobs and, more times than not, they continue to commit crimes. This reality is unacceptable for Milwaukee County. In 2011, we made a commitment to change our youth justice system.

At the same time, we have recognized the profound impact on racial disparities throughout our county, and we've committed to advancing racial equity in our community.

We’ve changed our focus from a system of punishment to one of rehabilitation. Through education, addressing mental health and trauma for individuals and communities, and building job skills, our goal is to reduce the number of youth in the youth justice system, and ensure all kids, regardless of background, experience safe, healthy and meaningful lives.

Mitigating the trauma of confinement and separation from family contributes to neighborhoods safer, builds stronger community bonds and ensures that all children in Milwaukee County thrive in strong, positive communities.

1. Sawyer, W. (2018, February 27). Youth Confinement: The Whole Pie.

Taking a New Approach

Changing our focus from locking up to rehabilitation meant taking a new approach to the traditional model.

In 2011, we began work to develop and implement a community-based, best-practice approach. All youth have brains that are still maturing and developing, making it hard for them to sometimes regulate their emotions or control their impulses. Beyond just seeing a youth for the crime they committed, we needed to make sure we understood the whole situation.

We developed and implemented a series of questions we must ask of each child when they enter the youth justice system. What may have happened to them in their past? Have they been engaged with our system of services? Do they have a family support system? What skills and outside support do they need to ensure this doesn’t happen again?

Education Is Key

A lot of these kids have talents that haven't surfaced yet. Our job, within our education program, is to seek those talents out.

The Racial & Ethnic Disparities (RED) Committee

The Racial & Ethnic Disparities (RED) Committee is committed to addressing the issues that find minorities disproportionately represented in the youth justice system, and how to best prepare our youth for when they return home.

RFK National Resource Center for Juvenile Justice Teams Up With Milwaukee County DYFS

The RFK Center is a key partner in our mission to empower safe, healthy, meaningful lives by providing youth and families with the supervision and support in pursuing a pro-social future.

Project Rise Is an Opportunity to Collaborate With the Community

Building Individual Support Systems

We have worked hard to provide more personal and integrative solutions based on three main areas of growth:


We’ve partnered with organizations like the Wauwatosa School District to help provide education to kids in detention to learn math, reading, science and art, and to broaden their understanding of the world around them with art, financial literacy, gardening, sports and community service.

Mental Health

With more than 80 percent of kids in our system having experienced trauma in their lives, we work with community partners like Wraparound Milwaukee to provide care centered around the specific needs of each child and family.

Pro-Social Skills

We want to do more than help kids get their lives on track. We want to help them rewrite their futures. We connect kids with employment and mentoring programs to help teach them the skills they need to make better choices, regulate their emotions and succeed in both the classroom and community.

Creating a Safer Community Together

We believe we can build safer neighborhoods when we work together to create a community of empowered youth and strong families. This is why we’ve involved respected local leaders to help us create these changes in the Milwaukee County youth justice system,

and why we’ve partnered with organizations across Milwaukee County, the state and the nation. In fact, some of the nation’s most respected youth justice thought leaders are working with us, including the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Georgetown University Center for Juvenile Justice Reform, and the Robert F. Kennedy National Resource Center for Juvenile Justice.

Project Rise Resources


Project Rise


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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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