Gov. Scott Walker announces plan to close Lincoln Hills, open fi - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Gov. Scott Walker announces plan to close Lincoln Hills, open five regional teenage prisons

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Governor Scott Walker announced a plan Thursday to close the Lincoln Hills and Cooper Lake juvenile correctional facility.

The plan transforms Wisconsin’s juvenile corrections system from one facility to five smaller, regional facilities located across the state.

A release from Governor Scott Walker states the facilities will each consist of 32 to 36 beds with staffing ratios consistent with requirements in the Prison Rape Elimination Act, and will be sited regionally based on population density.

At least one correctional facility will be located north of a line between Manitowoc and La Crosse.

The release says the plan will also expand juvenile treatment program for offenders with mental health challenges at the Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center  in Madison.

The Lincoln Hills/Copper Lake facility will transition to a medium-security adult correctional facility, according to the release. The Department of Corrections would be required to make employment opportunities available for former staff members at the adult facility, or one of the new juvenile facilities.

Costs of converting and operating the new facilities would be included in the DOC and DHS 2019-21 agency budget requests. Funding would be provided in the Governor’s 2019-21 Executive Budget to construct, purchase, and rehabilitate existing facilities.

Construction costs for the new facilities would total roughly $80 million, according to preliminary estimates from the DOC.

According to the release, the state will immediately begin working with counties and other stakeholders to site the new facilities.

State lawmakers are responding to the plan. Rep. Evan Goyke (D-Milwaukee) commended the announcement in a statement:

“The new policy initiatives unveiled today demonstrate exciting progress in reforming Wisconsin’s corrections systems.

I am proud to have lead the legislature in these efforts. Late last year I authored Assembly Bill 791, which would repurpose Lincoln Hills to an adult facility and a adopt a regionalized risk-based model for juvenile corrections.

It is exciting that these innovative ideas are gaining support, however, the initiatives proposed today do not have to wait for the next Governor. Assembly Bill 791 has been referred to the Assembly Corrections Committee and I call upon my majority party colleagues to hold a public hearing on this bi-partisan bill.

Today Wisconsin is taking its first step in meaningful corrections reform. I will continue to work hard and lead Wisconsin to ensure these meaningful reforms are implemented swiftly and correctly.”

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) also released a statement approving the plan:

“I applaud Governor Walker’s leadership on the issue and support his efforts to change the way we handle corrections in the state of Wisconsin. It’s essential that we find a workable solution that will bring about better outcomes for juveniles offenders, their families and their communities.

“I look forward to the future discussions on this proposal. We must focus on how we can work with Wisconsin counties in order to make the system more effective and accountable for juvenile offenders without putting undue burden on state taxpayers.”

Goyke says he would prefer lawmakers consider using his bill as the vehicle to accomplish the reform, to speed the juvenile corrections system transformation.

The Lincoln Hills facility's problems have involved finger-pointing, criminal investigation, and court intervention in recent years.  The actions of corrections officers have been probed after abuse of some teen inmates was exposed.  A federal judge curbed tactics used to maintain order at the facility.  Corrections staff members maintain they've been subject to youth inmate retaliation. 

Former corrections secretary Ed Wall tells 27 News he unsuccessfully lobbied the Governor's administration in 2015 to follow another state's lead and set up juvenile correction sites. 

'It was something that we actually went to the governor back when one of the legislators raised the issue of the Missouri plan, and we looked at the Missouri plan and the way they divided it up and we thought that would work in Wisconsin,"  Wall says.

"Regardless of what the impetus was for making the change, I'm glad the change is being made,"  Wall says, noting he's soon releasing a book detailing some of the history of the Lincoln Hills' facility's challenges and the response to them.

Governor Walker and leading republicans say this major transformation of the juvenile corrections system will require coordination with counties, to ensure youth inmates are supported in their regions, and the change-over to this approach is cost-effective.

"It is a game-changer,"  Goyke says.

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