Plan calls for spending $80M on five new juvenile prisons

Plan calls for spending $80M on five new juvenile prisons

While Thursday's announcement came as a shock to many lawmakers and stakeholders involved with the turmoil at Lincoln Hills, Gov.

Two members of the Wisconsin Assembly's Corrections Committee say Gov. Scott Walker's plan to create new regional juvenile prisons in the state can be done more quickly than he proposed. Walker announced his plan is to close the troubled facility in favor of spending an estimated $80 million to build or refurbish smaller, regional detention centers.

Multiple sources said it's possible that three of the new juvenile facilities will be located in southeastern Wisconsin, however it is unknown if any facility will be located in Racine County. It also calls for expanding the juvenile treatment program at the Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center in Madison.

But Walker's spokesman says that if the Legislature wants to speed up the timeline, the governor would support it.

The Lincoln Hills facility, once converted, will provide 500-600 new medium security beds and alleviate some of the county jail beds that have been used in the meantime.

Before state and federal raids on the facility in December 2015, staff also regularly physically abused youth in the facility, even breaking their arms and legs in some cases, according to the ACLU.

DOC and the Department of Health Services, which operates the Mendota facility, will be responsible for drafting specific spending plans.

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"Republicans and Democrats alike agree this is the way forward to reform juvenile corrections, and I thank state and local elected officials and interested organizations for partnering with us to develop this plan", Walker said. Advocates who have been pushing Walker to make such a move, say it's a step in the right direction, but there's still more work to be done.

State Superintendent Tony Evers, who is running against Walker for governor and has made the troubles at Lincoln Hills central to his argument to unseat Walker, said Walker's plan doesn't wash away the years of problems at the facility. How many kids have (been) abused during the 5 years Walker failed to act.

State Representative Dana Wachs (D-Eau Claire), one of several Democratic candidates for governor looking to challenge Walker in November, argued the governor has had the "opportunity to do the right thing time and time again, but he only caved after the pressure became too much".

"It might be helpful having five regional areas", Cramer said.

"We would love for that to be possible but we don't know that yet", Delagrave said.

Converting Lincoln Hills into an adult facility "is a case of throwing out the baby with the bathwater", Crevier said. Walker has insisted for months that he is confident the Department of Corrections could handle the ongoing situation at Lincoln Hills, and has declined to visit staff there.

Children at Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake were routinely placed in solitary confinement, put in mechanical restraints, pepper-sprayed, and strip-searched.

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