Overcrowding and Staff Shortages at Juvenile Detention Center, Superintendent Terminated

Hector Colon

Overcrowding and Staff Shortages at Juvenile Detention Center, Superintendent Terminated

Milwaukee – A 9-page April 18 memo from Health and Human Services Director Hector Colón to Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, addresses concerns about the Milwaukee County Juvenile Detention Center (JDC) in Wauwatosa.

Colon’s memo addresses staffing shortages that has forced the JDC to implement mandatory 12-hour shifts and no time off for officers working at the center, which is trying to deal with overcrowding issues that have occurred 33 days since Jan. 1.

The memo informed Abele that the conditions regarding staff hours cause increased stress among JDC staff, “combined with overcrowding conditions, this environment can create a heightened risk of incidents”.

The timing of the memo comes at a critical period as Milwaukee County authorities scramble to deal with trying to find alternative locations for Milwaukee youths residing at the troubled Lincoln Hills youth facility in northern Wisconsin, Colón’s memo states.

The Lincoln Hills youth facility is currently being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Wisconsin Department of Justice for alleged abuses including potential second-degree sexual assault, neglect of children and intimidation of victims and witnesses. Federal authorities are also investigating whether there was a pattern of civil rights violations.

Colon’s memo points out that 49 youths were transferred from Lincoln Hills to the JDC staying an average of 21 days while waiting for judicial review of available options over the past few months.

The memo states that in the first three months of this year the total number of admissions to the JDC shot up to 520, from 461 in the last three months of 2015 after problems at Lincoln Hills were first made public.

The increase in youth contributed to the “…significant staffing shortage” in the first three months of this year — including vacant positions and employees not available for work due to family medical leaves or worker’s compensation.

According to the memo a number of youths had to sleep on the floor on foam rubber mattresses called “boats” on 20 of the 33 nights the JDC was overcrowded.

To relieve the overcrowding, Colón suggest that a detention center in Racine County can provide support as a last resort.

Colón notes that authorities from Milwaukee and Racine counties are negotiating terms of an agreement allowing such a temporary transfer of youths.

Colón’s memo states he first became aware of the growing staff shortage and crowding at the Milwaukee County facility in late March. He initiated an internal investigation resulting in the memo to Abele.

To address the staff shortage, two officers were hired and are in training and are expected to be in staff within a week.

More hires are expected. Meanwhile, county officials will be seeking volunteers from within to help relieve staff shortage.

So far there are a few volunteers currently going through background checks, complete physical exams and TB tests to be able to participate in an eight-hour training class before assuming any shifts at the JDC.

Colón will be initiating a separate independent investigation of the staffing shortage and crowding by a team made up of representatives from Children’s Court, the district attorney and public defender’s offices, as well as the state Corrections Department and state Department of Children and Families.

Juvenile Detention Center Superintendent Wilma Fonseca was “terminated from employment” on April 12, according to the memo.

Detention Center Deputy Superintendent Terrell Martin has been named interim superintendent, according to the memo.

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