A bill providing funding for a new type 1 juvenile facility in Milwaukee is moving forward and could be housed in one of the city’s few adult re-entry facilities. During Tuesday’s Senate floor session, an amendment that would have protected the Felmers O.Chaney Correctional Center from being gutted and converted into the new type 1 facility was rejected.

Closing the troubled Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake juvenile prisons in Irma is a longtime aspiration of advocates and legislators that is finally coming to fruition. Under SB-520, which passed the Senate Tuesday, about $42 million from the state’s general fund will be allocated to develop a replacement facility. Decommissioning Lincoln Hills and moving the youth there to better suited facilities near home may is within reach. But while moving past the troubled legacy of Lincoln Hills has broad, bipartisan support, the question remains exactly where the new facility will be built.

In 2019, a proposed facility on the far northwest side of the city was scrapped due to local disapproval. Now, the Felmers O. Chaney Correctional Center is seen as a desirable location. But for youth to be housed there, one of Milwaukee’s only adult re-entry facilities for men would have to close with no clear plan for replacing the lost services.

Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) voiced her displeasure with the plan, stating, “this is not a choice we should have to make.” Although the bill itself doesn’t single out the Felmers O. Chaney Center, the Department of Corrections (DOC) regards it as a top potential location. Taylor blamed leaders in Milwaukee for not providing the DOC more time to assess other potential sites.

Taylor highlighted numerous groups including the MICHA, the NAACP, Sherman Park Neighborhood Association, EXPO (Ex-Incarcerated People Organizing), and others who oppose carving a type 1 facility out of the Felmers O. Chaney Center. Closing the facility has also been opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, and the Felmers O. Chaney Advocacy Board.

“I can’t speak about right or wrong, how we got here,” said Taylor. “I’m not here to justify the position of DOC to move forward with that location. And I’m not here to say anything other than to speak up for the people who have not had a voice in this house. They deserve to be heard. And more importantly if we’re going to change mass incarceration, you cannot say that you’re going to get rid of the facility that literally provides work release options for people coming out. One of the only ones in the city of Milwaukee for men.”

Taylor pressed the need for community corrections and workforce programs, particularly as parts of the state are experiencing workforce shortages. “If the city of Milwaukee is not made to cooperate by showing sites,” said Taylor, “if we don’t demand that we can use the land that we own, mark my words, they will close the Chaney facility, he will be turned in his grave to know that we have done this. And I will be coming back to you to say I told you. I told you so.”

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