Gov. Walker to close Lincoln Hills juvenile prison - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

Gov. Walker to close Lincoln Hills juvenile prison

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Madison (WQOW) - Governor Scott Walker announced Thursday plans to close the Lincoln Hills Juvenile Prison and open five regional prisons for teenagers.

A federal judge last year ordered the state to dramatically reduce its use of solitary confinement, shackles and pepper spray on inmates at Lincoln Hills, which is about 20 miles north of Wausau.

In a press release, Governor Walker made the following statement:

 “By moving from one facility to several facilities across the state, and placing a focus on mental health and trauma-informed care, we believe this plan will improve long-term outcomes for both juveniles and our staff working at these facilities,” Governor Walker said. “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.”

The governor also says his plan will:

  • Reform Wisconsin’s juvenile corrections and treatment systems to align with nationally recognized best practices. The plan transforms Wisconsin’s juvenile corrections system from one facility to five smaller, regional facilities located across the state. The plan also expands the state’s internationally-recognized juvenile treatment program for youth with mental health needs at the Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center.
  • Continue Wisconsin’s focus on enhancing mental health and treatment outcomes in close collaboration with families, courts, and Wisconsin counties.
  • Require the DOC to relocate juveniles at Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake Schools (LHS/CLS) to five new Type 1 juvenile correctional facilities and one new juvenile mental health facility.
    • The correctional facilities will each consist of 32 to 36 beds with staffing ratios consistent with requirements in the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) 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.
  • Transition the existing facility at LHS/CLS to a medium-security adult correctional facility with the cooperation of Lincoln County. This will maintain and potentially even expand the number of jobs in Lincoln County. The addition of this new adult facility will likely reduce DOC’s utilization of contract beds to house adult male inmates. The new facility will also increase DOC’s treatment capacity for inmates with assessed Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse (AODA) treatment needs.
  • Require DOC to make employment opportunities available for LHS/CLS staff at the new adult facility in Lincoln County or one of the new juvenile facilities.
  • Require the Department of Health Services (DHS) to expand treatment services at the Mendota Treatment Center, serving more male juveniles as early as fall 2018, and creating a facility there to treat female juveniles with mental health needs. 
  • Require DOC and DHS to include the costs of converting and operating these new facilities in their 2019-21 agency budget requests.  Funding will be provided in the Governor’s 2019-21 Executive Budget to construct, purchase, and/or rehabilitate existing facilities to house juvenile inmates. Funding will also be provided to convert LHS/CLS to a medium security adult correctional facility. Construction costs for the new facilities would total roughly $80 million, according to preliminary estimates from the DOC.
  • The state will begin working with counties and other stakeholders to immediately site the new facilities and plan any other actions needed to ensure a smooth transition. Any programming adjustments will be administratively implemented by DOC in consultation with other state agencies and relevant stakeholders.

Democratic candidates for governor, Dana Wachs and Tony Evers released the following statements about Walker's plan

Wachs Statement:

“At least we know what it takes for Gov. Walker to do the right thing -- a federal criminal investigation.

“Gov. Walker had the opportunity to do the right thing time and time again, but he only caved after the pressure became too much.

“I called for Gov. Walker to shut down Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake. But it wasn’t common sense, decency, or the growing chorus of folks all over this state calling for the closure of Lincoln Hills that made Walker act. It was the pressure of failure and the threat of his political career ending. Ignoring the ongoing abuse of Wisconsin youth and the imminent danger of facility workers is criminal negligence at best.

“As Wisconsin’s governor, I will work side-by-side with the folks of this state on every decision, big or small. That’s what we need, not a career politician who operates out of fear.”

Evers Statement: 

"If Scott Walker thinks that his statement today washes away 2,055 days of scandal, mismanagement and cover-up, he's got another thing coming. How many kids have (been) abused during the 5 years Walker failed to act. How many staff have been harassed and beaten? How many lives have been ruined? Now he wants us to believe the same people who cause the Lincoln Hills mess are going to fix it. We need responsible leaders who are more focused about solving problems and protecting lives than winning elections."

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