Paul Rusk, District 12 Supervisor

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One of the interesting challenges of serving in local government is working to develop excellent public policy that is dependent on the action of state government. One example is how Dane County should proceed considering the June 2021 closing of the embattled Lincoln Hills and Copper Falls youth correctional facilities in northern Wisconsin. News coverage of misconduct and abuse has been alarming. Currently, there are few options for the four Dane County juvenile judges seeking the best placement alternative.

I believe we can create a far better local alternative for youth in the juvenile justice system that provides high quality treatment and programming options to allow juveniles to turn their lives around in their home community. Keeping everyone safe while understanding the powerful positive role families and local support networks can provide leads to better outcomes as kids reintegrate into the community.

Today family members must travel three hours to Irma to visit their children. The 2019 county capital budget included $3.96 million for renovations to the current center we anticipate will be reimbursed by the state at 95%. Dane County has an unused wing in the City County Building next to the current detention center that could include 18 beds for boys and five beds for girls. Currently, we have 16 youth far removed from home in northern Wisconsin.

With approval of state government, the county can move forward with a quality program that includes trauma-informed care, anger management, family counseling, education and job training in a smaller regional facility. Dane, Brown, Milwaukee and Racine counties have submitted applications. More state dollars will be needed to fund four facilities.

Another aspect of comprehensive youth services is the expansion of the Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center for youth needing intensive mental health care. The governor included $59 million for this project in the state budget.

Supervisor Rusk can be reached at 608-249-9667 or rusk@countyofdane.com.