Milwaukee youth prison renderings, public input sought

A youth prison in Milwaukee, replacing Lincoln Hills, would house the state's most serious young offenders.

The Milwaukee site near 76th and Clinton is an old emissions testing center. Governor Tony Evers' administration picked it in August. More city and state approvals are needed to transform the location.

Milwaukee's northwest side could become home to the state of Wisconsin's highest security youth detention facility.

Mark Ludgatis

"The goal of the design was to make this look like a non-correctional facility, like a school, like a treatment facility and really deemphasize the physical security aspects that you might see with a typical prison and really focus on the therapeutic aspects, to make it feel more like a school on the inside and outside," said Mark Ludgatis, BWBR Architects.

Ludgatis's plans aren't final. There are no large barbed wire fences. Instead, he uses the building and a wall to create the secured perimeter. Inside, the state plans areas for visiting, health and psychological services, recreation and education.

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"The goal is to move our kids closer to home where they have a greater opportunity for more programmatic support, more familial support, so they can connect with their families," said Kevin Carr, Wisconsin Corrections secretary. "We would also increase our engagement with families through the program that we provide to the youth and families that have children in our care. This type of facility is meant to increase public safety by providing the absolute best programming and support for our juveniles who are in the criminal justice system. We want to turn around the trajectories that we are on and obtain better results."

The site for 32 boys would replace Lincoln Hills, the scandal-plagued youth detention facility in north central Wisconsin. It’s 200 miles and 3 hours from Milwaukee.
It’s still open, even though 2018 state law ordered it closed by 2021.

"Because it’s in the city, there may be services more easy to provide just because there may be more providers, but I also think that having them near a family is huge," said Margaret Murphy of Milwaukee. "For parents to go to Lincoln Hills who may not have a car, how they have to get up there, how often they get to see him, here, they’re able to go out and visit and interact."

The Wisconsin Department of Corrections planned three listening sessions where you can learn about the tentative plans, ask questions and share your thoughts.

"We really don’t want it there," said Joe Greer, who lives near the site. "Really. We don’t want it there. We prefer them to put it someplace else. This is a nice cul-de-sac, and we don’t want all that traffic coming through here."

"We plan to be the absolute best neighbor that we can be, and our history or our experience has been that these facilities result in safer neighborhoods wherever they are located around the state," said Carr. We have more police presence as a result of our presence. We have trained observers and correctional officers who are coming and going into the facility at certain times of the day, and their mere presence creates a safer environment for everyone."

"We’re worried about property values," said Greer. "In the meeting, they said property values actually go up, but we don’t believe that. We don’t believe that because we believe with all the added traffic and the prison over there, it’s gonna make it really go down."

The Milwaukee Common Council gave the preliminary OK to use this space, but the Council will still need to approve a zoning change, giving you another chance to share your thoughts.

After that, the state building commission will have to approve the final plans.

Community listening sessions 

  • Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022: 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
  • Saturday, Nov.19, 2022: 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.
  • LOCATION: Milwaukee Police Academy, 6680 N Teutonia Avenue, Milwaukee, WI 53209