- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 2, 2016

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - The public has lost confidence in the Department of Corrections following abuse allegations at Wisconsin’s youth prison and the agency faces a litany of problems, the department’s new secretary acknowledged Wednesday.

Jon Litscher began his appointment confirmation hearing before the Senate judiciary committee by asserting it’s his job to re-establish public trust and that he wants to bring ideas for reform to Gov. Scott Walker and legislators.

“Part of my responsibility is to make changes and develop … relationships with offenders, youth and adults, to give them a chance to succeed,” Litscher told the panel.

He didn’t offer any details of his proposed reforms and declined to talk to reporters after he addressed the committee.

Litscher served as DOC secretary from 1999 to 2003 under Republican Govs. Tommy Thompson and Scott McCallum. He most recently worked as a schools superintendent in Cambria. Walker, a Republican, tapped him last month to return to Corrections and replace Ed Wall as the agency’s leader.

Wall resigned on Feb. 5 amid an investigation into abuse claims at Lincoln Hills School for Boys and the Copper Lake School for Girls, the state’s joint youth prison in Irma, about 30 miles north of Wausau. Federal authorities are investigating allegations including sexual assault and misconduct in public office at the facility.

The investigation came to light in December when state agents raided the prison. The FBI has since taken over the probe. U.S. Attorney John Vaudreuil said investigators also are considering whether they need to look into potential civil rights violations.

Litscher’s first day on the job was Monday. Sen. Van Wanggaard, a Racine Republican who chairs the judiciary committee, tried to defuse any discussion of the investigation during the hearing because the investigation is ongoing.

Sen. Lena Taylor, though, showed up wearing an orange turtleneck she said shows she supports prisoners. The Milwaukee Democrat spent at least 20 minutes laying out her concerns about Corrections, including a lack of ethnic diversity among guards, a refusal to place inmates on parole, the Lincoln Hills/Copper Lake investigation and a lack of transportation for Milwaukee families visiting inmates at that institution.

Litscher said he wants to find money for buses from Milwaukee to Irma and urged Taylor to prioritize rather than take a “scattergun approach” to issues. He also said he would try to reduce forced overtime in hopes of boosting staff morale.

Wanggaard aide Scott Kelly said the committee likely will vote on confirmation sometime next week.

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Follow Todd Richmond on Twitter at https://twitter.com/trichmond1

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