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Ethan Allen youth facility predicted to close

Committee members likely will vote to shut down one of two state male juvenile facilities

June 9, 2010

One of the state's two male juvenile institutions - which includes Ethan Allen School in the Town of Delafield - will close soon if all goes as predicted.

Jim Moeser, a member of a governor-appointed committee charged with determining how to respond to a drop in juvenile crime and increased budget deficits, said it is not fiscally feasible to run two separate juvenile facilities for boys.

"The sense is there has to be a consolidation one way or another," said Moeser, of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families.

Gov. Jim Doyle appointed an 11-person committee in April to determine how Wisconsin's Department Corrections Division of Juvenile Corrections (DJC) should respond to a nearly decade-long drop in juvenile crime and the budget deficit it has created. The committee, which is composed of civic, judicial and religious leaders, was to provide a recommendation at the end of May but extended the review period. Moeser said they will vote at a June 21 meeting on the final recommendation to the governor, which likely will include shutting down either Ethan Allen or Lincoln Hills School in Irma.

"I think it means closing one," he said.

With the male youth arrest rate down 22 percent since 2001, court-ordered commitments to state juvenile correctional facilities have plummeted over the last 10 years. The population drop at Wisconsin's juvenile correctional institutions has raised per capita costs and contributed to a projected state juvenile corrections budget deficit of $25 million over the next two years, according to the Department of Corrections.

Moeser said he did not know which facility they would recommend closing. The committee could also decide to run both facilities with half-full populations, but he said it is not likely because of the costs.

Committee members toured both facilities and have been in discussions since the governor first appointed the task force. They will develop contingency plans and discuss programming and new opportunities with their recommendation, said Moeser.

The daily cost to house a juvenile in state institutions has increased from about $187 a day in 2005 to about $270 in 2010, according to department statistics.

The Department of Corrections reports the average daily population of males at juvenile corrections institutions has dropped about 30 percent from 2005 to February 2010.

The falling crime rates are clear indications that early intervention and programming at the county level and efforts by the department to focus on successful re-entry are reducing crime, the Department of Corrections noted.

The committee's work could run into issues because Doyle is not seeking re-election and is in office for only about five more months, but Moeser said he does not think the committee would have been asked unless there was serious intent to make a decision. From a fiscal point of view, it's logical to make some decision once a recommendation has been made because each day the deficit is growing, Moeser said. He said he would not feel bad if the governor did not go with the committee's recommendation. Moeser said the aim is to improve the future of the juveniles and the community.

"If there was an easy decision to make, it would have been made already," he said.

Fast Facts

→ An 11-member committee charged with examining a drop in juvenile crime and its budget ramifications is expected to vote June 21 on recommendations to the governor.

→ Those recommendations could include closing one of two juvenile facilities: Ethan Allen School in the Town of Delafield or Lincoln Hills School in Irma in Northern Wisconsin.

→ The average daily population of males at juvenile corrections institutions has dropped about 30 percent since 2005.

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