MADISON, Wis. - The number of juvenile patients Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center can house and treat will triple in 2021 as part of an expansion project at the facility.
MJTC is a secure treatment facility on the grounds of Mendota Mental Health Institute on Madison's north side. It currently houses 43 teenage boys who are considered some of the most dangerous in the state. The institute's director, Greg Van Rybroek, said they often have been neglected or abused, and come from some of the worst circumstances imaginable.
"It's far more than being truant in school and that sort of thing," Van Rybroek said. "Their lives are really, really wobbling significantly and usually there's a pattern of very serious behavior before they would come here."
Gov. Tony Evers signed the two-year state budget earlier this month, which approved $59 million to add on to the juvenile treatment facility, adding 30 beds for teenage boys and 20 beds for girls.
Van Rybroek called adding teenage girls for the first time a "huge change."
"We have not had girls here at Mendota in the juvenile population since the juvenile treatment center opened in 1995," he added.
As part of the expansion project, a new building will be added on to the MJTC and more staff will be hired. There will be spaces with computers where patients can look for jobs, a kitchen, a gymnasium and other therapy spaces. An underground service tunnel will be built from the new building to the existing tunnel to allow meals and supplies to be securely delivered.
Currently, the patients end up at MJTC through the judicial system, but under the state budget, they will also be able to come through county referrals.
The facility uses what the heads of the center believe is a one-of-a-kind approach to treating juveniles and is run by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. Van Rybroek said data shows the treatment center reduces recidivism by 50 percent.
The average age currently is 16.5 years old, and the average stay for patients in nine months.
The only other facility in Wisconsin that accepts higher level secure teenagers right now is the troubled Lincoln Hills-Copper Lake youth prison, but that facility is slated to close in 2021, the same year the expansion project at Mendota is expected to be finished.
"When Lincoln Hills closes, the idea is that there will be juvenile correctional facilities that corrections will run and that some of those youth would also be available to come here," Van Rybroek said.
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