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  • InsideTrack
  • June 01, 2022

    From a Juvenile’s Perspective: How Effective is the Milwaukee County Accountability Program?

    The Milwaukee County Accountability Program offers rehabilitative services for youth offenders. Just how effective is the program? Yolanda Gauna discusses the program and insight from a participant in the program.

    Yolanda Mercedes Gauna

    child in tunnel

    The Milwaukee County Accountability Program (MCAP)started in 2012 as a diversion program to rehabilitate juveniles in the court system. Male youth (ages 13 to 16½) charged with delinquency cases who were at risk of being sent to the Department of Youth Corrections could be court ordered to MCAP as a postdispositional placement.1

    This one-year program consisted of an out-of-home placement and an in-home placement with the supervision of the parent or guardian. Participating youth had been adjudicated delinquent and placed on probation and assigned to a Human Service Worker (HSW).

    Youth in MCAP would be placed in the secure detention center on one of the two pods (24-bed capacity) dedicated for MCAP for a minimum of 180 days.2

    The length of time a youth remained in secure detention was based on meeting the program benchmarks. Historically, youth were eligible to petition for passes to their prospective residence on their 120th day in secure detention. Upon release from secure detention, youth were required to follow a customized intensive aftercare plan developed under Child, Youth, and Family Services (CYFS) guidelines with community-based services. Participants were required to appear in front of their assigned judge every 60 days for an MCAP review until their order expired.

    Milwaukee County Juvenile Statistics

    To get an idea of the big picture and the numbers of juveniles charged with delinquency cases in Milwaukee, CYFS produces a Monthly Data Blast.

    Yolanda Gauna headshot Yolanda Gauna, Ave Maria School of Law 2011, started YG Law Firm Inc., Menomonee Falls, in 2021. Her practice primarily focuses on CHIPS, TPR, guardianship, and juvenile delinquency cases in Milwaukee County Children’s Court.

    In March 2022, 147 referrals were sent to the District Attorney’s Office for prosecution. Out of those 147 referrals, 48 youth were detained, 22 youth were not detained, and 77 youth were ordered in for a court date.

    Out of the 147 referrals, 52 individuals were age 16, 38 individuals were age 15, 27 individuals were age 14, 22 individuals were age 13, and the remaining eight individuals were age 12 and under.

    Out of the 147 referrals, 82% were African American and made up 93% of detention admissions.

    In the month of March, 86 youth were admitted to secure detention and 90 youth were discharged, with the average length of stay being 65.4 days. At the end of March, 476 youth were on some sort of supervision, with the majority (320 individuals) being on probation.

    Is MCAP the Best Solution in Milwaukee County with the Increase in Juvenile Crime?

    With the rise in juvenile delinquency cases, the overcrowding of secure detention for juveniles, and the long waitlist, many people question if this MCAP program is the best solution.

    In 2020, MCAP had 40 participants, and 26 youth successfully completed the program. In 2021, MCAP had 45 participants, and 29 youth successfully completed the program. In 2021, 18 MCAP youth reoffended in the community.

    With these statistics, I had little faith in this program, until recently. My 16-year-old client had four delinquency cases (all involving operating a motor vehicle without owner's consent and obstructing an officer in Milwaukee County) with nine felony and misdemeanor counts.

    My client did not choose to participate in MCAP, but was sentenced to MCAP and put on the waitlist for approximately two months before starting MCAP. My client was in secure detention for a little over nine months, but recently successfully completed the MCAP program and was released from secure detention.

    I can honestly say that my client has matured in the last nine months. He was attending school through the Wauwatosa School District in secure detention and had all As and one B in his classes. He has long-term goals of working in the plumbing or carpenter trades when he turns 18, and will be participating in the Earn and Learn program for the summer.

    After interviewing my client, I learned a few things that may be of interest to others, and share the following with permission.

    Advantages to MCAP from a juvenile perspective:

    • the Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) class: The juveniles are taught skills to think before doing and to take accountability. They are guided by values and they create long-term goals;

    • learning about projects and hearing guest speakers: The juveniles participate in projects such as flooring tiles and hear trade program representatives speak about different professions. These trade programs also offer job opportunities for the summer and when the youth turn 18;

    • there are fewer juveniles on the MCAP Pod – 12, which allows a youth to complete the program with fewer distractions and fewer conflicts or fights;

    • more recreational time: Juveniles in the MCAP program are allowed four hours of recreation time as opposed to two hours in general population;

    • advocates, like Running Rebels and HSW, visit juveniles weekly in the pods; and

    • the point system that allows children to earn rewards such as chips, candy bars, toothpaste, body wash, etc.

    Disadvantages to MCAP:

    • unfortunately, there are only 24 spots in this program, historically accessible only to males;

    • there are many negative influences from juveniles that have committed multiple crimes, and this might be distracting for the other youth while participating in the program;

    • this is a court-ordered program, therefore many of the participants did not choose to be in MCAP, which may be a factor in a lack of active participation in the program;

    • if a youth fights in this program, they get a 30-day push back on their release date; and

    • If a youth gets in trouble, they will get a restriction and lose privileges during the week.

    The Present and Future of MCAP

    For the last year and a half, many leaders within Milwaukee County Children’s Court, including Milwaukee County Circuit Court Presiding Judge Laura Crivello and Commissioner J.C. Moore, in addition to representatives of CYFS, have been meeting to modify and evolve this program.

    This team is trying to modify the current four phases of the program.3

    As it currently stands, the program was designed to be completed in one standard fashion without any deviations. When considering re-entry treatment courts, treatment looks different for different individuals. There is a different risk versus the different needs for every juvenile, therefore moving through the program and the phases should be a little different for every individual.

    Youth present with different risk and need levels. These are routinely measured by CYFS through the use of evidence-based tools such as the Youth Assessment Screening Instrument (YASI).

    Youth should not be treated in a one size fits all manner. Doing so wastes supervisory and court resources. Moreover, it is not just unduly restrictive on the youth; evidence shows that treating lower-risk youth along with higher-risk youth can actually increase risk levels of the lower-risk youth. Because of this, the modified program will have risk-based tracks with phases in different lengths (higher risk equals longer secure detention).

    The biggest challenge facing this team is how to create a new points system that ties together the case plan written by HSW.

    Incentivizing youth progress in the program is key. The program will develop a point-based system that will allow youth to earn points through positive performance and move faster through each phase and the program overall. Instead of just “doing their time” the youth can become invested in their progress.

    Another challenge is training judges on conducting review hearings and encouraging more frequent hearings to allow for more regular updates. For example, Judge Crivello is currently having an MCAP review hearing every 2-3 weeks to meet with the youth, though this is not standard across Children’s Court.

    The program uses an evidence-based approach called therapeutic jurisprudence, borrowed from treatment courts. Increased, meaningful contact between the judicial officer and youth builds rapport, reinforces actions taken by the HSW, and provides for more effective supervision thru swift and certain court responses to youth behavior. This means more court appearances.

    Conclusion: An Exceptional Restorative Program

    After being educated on the program and seeing real results, including one of my current clients completing this MCAP program, I have come to the conclusion that overall, it is an exceptional restorative program for juveniles, that can only get better with a few adjustments, financial resources, and commitment from all involved.

    This article was originally published on the State Bar of Wisconsin's Children & the Law Section Blog. Visit the State Bar sections or the Children & the Law Section webpages to learn more about the benefits of section membership.


    1 Milwaukee County adopted a County Board Resolution (12-564) which authorizes the use of detention as a disposition under Wis. Stat. section 938.34(3)(f).

    2 Wis. Stat. § 938.22(2)(d)2.

    3 The four phases are: I. Introduction, II. Main Phase, III. Non-Secure Placement, IV. In-Home Placement. The use of four phases will reflect the different placement locations for the youth including secure detention, step down to out-of-home non-secure residential treatment centers and eventually home placement. Movement through the phases will also correspond to gradual reduction in risk posed by the youth as needs are addressed.

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