MARINETTE — The placement of troubled juveniles in high-cost state facilities like Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake and shipping those awaiting court action to far-away detention centers continue to be costly problems for Marinette County. The Health and Human Services Board on Wednesday discussed possible solutions to decrease those expenses such as expanding the facilities at the former Crossroads Group Home site in the Town of Peshtigo.

HHS Director Rob Elsner told the board that the county currently has two placements in the Lincoln Hills facility for boys that cost $15,990 in June and one placement in the Copper Lakes in the facility for girls that cost $11,700 last month. He said he is hopeful all three will be returned to the county by the end of this year.

He also noted that the county paid $15,505 for the residential placement of an individual in the Child Care Institute in southwestern Wisconsin that he said could last until sometime next year.

“We hope to get all three of these youth (in Lincoln Hills and Copper Lakes) are out by the end of this year,” Elsner said. “Hopefully we’ll have our new facility in the Town of Peshtigo (licensed by then) and a couple of kids transitioned back by then to that facility.”

Elsner was referring to the former eight-bed Crossroads Group Home that the county recently acquired from the Group Home Association and contracted with Advocates for Healthy Transitional Living to operate it. It can only house six juveniles currently until Advocates for Healthy Transitional Living obtains an eight-bed group home license from the state.

He also reported to the board that recently the county had to transport a juvenile all the way to Washington County in the Milwaukee area for short-term detention.

“We had a youth that had to be put in secure detention last week,” Elsner said. “We had to send that youth all the way to Washington County.

“We contract with Sheboygan and Brown counties and Brown and Sheboygan are full and so was Fond du Lac so we ended up going to Washington County with the youth. For law enforcement to go down there and bring him back to court and do all those kind of things, that’s a lot of extra expense.”

“Because you have placements in the Town of Peshtigo and there is nine acres there, in the future would it be possible to build more houses there?” County Supervisor and HHS Board member Jillian Schutte asked Elsner. “In the long run it could save us money.”

Elsner said in the past the county has “utilized Crossroads to the max,” but said he didn’t know if the state would “allow that kind of facility to expand to more beds.”

“I think the size of the property is too small,” he said. “I don’t think the state would approve a group home and then a facility like you’re talking about.

“If we have the group home licensed and re-establish that program, I think we can continue to reduce the Lincoln Hills placements. The judge has been pretty good at placing kids at the former Crossroads. But if they commit a serious offense, the judge and the DA are going to propose the most serious placement for at least a six-month period. Then they transition them to a place like Crossroads.”

Schutte suggested the cost of constructing another facility in a different location could possibly be worthwhile versus the alternative of sending juveniles outside of the county.

“There are counties that are developing new secure detention/residential treatment facilities,” Elsner said. “We are not one of them. I know Fond du Lac County is considering that.”

He said if the county “would have an interest developing a facility like that we would want to have other county partners because if you develop a facility like that it’s going to be 30 to 40 occupied beds.”

“We would want other surrounding counties to have a contract with us so that you’re keeping your beds at 75 percent full,” Elsner said. “We have our needs of kids, but you would want a multicounty need to keep the facility sustainable.”

He said the possibility of establishing a regional facility for juveniles would be something “that corrections, the sheriff’s department and all the community players would need to look at and consider.”

“This is being looked at regionally and would be something our Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee may want to discuss and look at and have a discussion to determine if Marinette County is interested in going in that direction,” Elsner said.