- Associated Press - Monday, January 15, 2018

The Capital Times, Jan. 10

Scott Walker’s neglect of crisis at Lincoln Hills must end - now!

When Gov. Scott Walker proposed in his first budget plan to shutter the Ethan Allen School for Boys and the Southern Oaks Girls School - both of which were near Milwaukee - and to move all juvenile offenders to the remote Lincoln Hills School for Boys campus in northern Wisconsin, people who knew about juvenile justice warned it was the wrong move.

Employees at the Ethan Allen and Southern Oaks schools explained that “consolidation” would move young people far from their families and counseled that this would hinder efforts to help get troubled kids back on track. They complained that the plan was ill-conceived and would ultimately prove to be more complicated and costly than maintaining existing facilities.

But the notoriously anti-labor governor showed no interest in the insights of experienced state employees in 2011. He was too busy trying to bust their unions - in a move that weakened the avenues for accountability that labor contracts and union representation maintain.

Nor did Walker pay attention in 2012, when Racine County Circuit Judge Richard Kreul sent a memo that provided details of a horrific incident involving a beating and sexual assault at Lincoln Hills. Kreul wrote directly to the governor, explaining: “I’m sure reading the attached memo will shock you as much as it did me. Almost 50 years in the legal system and I’ve seen and heard a lot, so (I’m) not naive as to what ‘prison’ is about. But the indifference in this sordid tale is absolutely inexcusable. I’ll be thinking long and hard before sending another youth to that place!”

Walker’s office said the governor never saw the materials that were sent to him by a respected jurist. That’s a startling claim. But it reinforces the concern that Walker was always more interested in cutting corners - and preparing his bid for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination - than in watching out for the welfare of children who were confined by the state.

Again and again, Walker was provided with - or had easy access to - information about what the Wisconsin State Journal described as “a dark chapter for the youth prison that has been plagued by allegations of inmate abuse and unsafe working conditions for staff.” That dark chapter saw an internal investigation by the Department of Corrections, an external investigation by the Department of Justice, an FBI investigation, reports of “severe security problems,” reports of injuries to inmates, and an outcry from responsible legislators.

Finally, a federal lawsuit by the ACLU of Wisconsin and the Juvenile Law Center secured an injunction to limit some of the most abusive practices in the facilities, where the ACLU reported that children “were routinely placed in solitary confinement, put in mechanical restraints, pepper-sprayed, and strip searched.”

“These facilities (Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls) incarcerate approximately 150-200 children as young as 14 years old. Prior to 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,” explained the ACLU last week, in a statement that described “horrific conditions” and persistent concerns.

Walker cannot plead ignorance. For more than five years, information, evidence and pleas for action were directed to the governor.

Yet he did not act appropriately.

He is still not acting appropriately.

Last week, Walker said he wanted to convert the Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake facilities into a prison for adult inmates. He indicated that he is interested in building as many as six smaller youth facilities across Wisconsin for the state’s most serious juvenile offenders - including a mental health unit in Madison for girls.

Yet we do not know if any of these changes will take place.

We don’t know because Walker is not responding with a sense of urgency. According to the State Journal, “If Walker wins re-election, he plans to include in the next state budget at least $80 million for the construction of five new juvenile prisons for up to three dozen inmates each. Lawmakers would need to approve the plan.”

While Walker said planning for the move is taking place, the steps that must be taken will not be come until 2019. Or 2020. Or who knows when.

That’s shameful.

“After years of neglect, and ignoring the many legislative proposals that I introduced to bring relief to juveniles and correctional officers, Governor Walker is just now getting to do his job right in time for another election bid,” said state Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee. “As governor, he has failed to visit a single correctional or juvenile facility in his entire tenure. It’s clear where his priorities are, and that this is just another attempt to play politics and get this scandal, recently confirmed by his former Corrections secretary, off his back.”

State Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, said Walker is “(using) juveniles and state employees as pawns in a campaign gimmick.”

Bipartisan support for change came from two members of the Assembly Corrections Committee. Rep. Joel Kleefish, R-Oconomowoc, and Rep. David Bowen, D-Milwaukee, said in a statement Friday that the Legislature should enact Walker’s plan this year.

If Walker really recognized the enormity of what has gone awry on his watch, he would call for a special session of the Legislature to deal with the juvenile justice crisis. Lawmakers should take up bills sponsored by Sen. Taylor, Rep. Taylor, state Rep. Evan Goyke, D-Milwaukee, and other engaged legislators who have outlined specific plans to address not just the mess at Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake but much of what is wrong with juvenile justice in Wisconsin.

“(The) initiatives proposed (by Walker) do not have to wait for the next governor,” said Goyke.

They must not wait. It is immoral to delay any longer, and it is doubly immoral to delay for political purposes. The response to the crisis - which this governor has for so long neglected - should begin immediately.


The Journal Times of Racine, Jan. 9

Time to close Lincoln Hills has arrived

Gov. Scott Walker announced last week that the state will close the troubled Lincoln Hills juvenile detention facility for boys and Copper Lake School for girls in Irma as part of a long-term plan to improve the state’s juvenile corrections system.

Two words: About time.

For years that facility has been a liberality to the state. This is a chance to right the wrongs that have been done.

Inmates at the state’s youth prison have kicked in glass windows, removed doors, stolen pepper spray and used it on staff members and threatened to rape female staff members, among other things, records have shown.

There have also been allegations of prisoner abuse, sexual assault, intimidation of witnesses and victims, strangulation and tampering with public records.

“Ten staff members at the Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls in Irma told Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, through interviews with his staff that they fear for their lives and that the facility is no longer safe,” according to an October Wisconsin State Journal article.

Around that same time, the story came out about the teacher who was punched in the face by a Lincoln Hills inmate.

She reportedly told the student inmate to return to his seat. Instead of listening he said, “You’re not running the classroom. I am.” He then reportedly punched the teacher in the eye, knocking her unconscious. A photo of the image went viral, visually depicting the disarray going on at the institution.

In the past, officials, including the governor have said the facility is safe, following multiple reforms.

But problems have continued and it’s time now that Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake School should be shut down, for the safety of the youth and the adults who work there.

As part of the overall plan, juveniles in those facilities will be relocated to five new juvenile correction facilities and one new juvenile mental health facility.

Walker also announced the Department of Health Services will expand treatment for male juveniles located at the Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center and create a new facility at that center for female juveniles.

Funding will be provided in the governor’s 2019-21 executive budget to “construct, purchase and or rehabilitate existing facilities to house juvenile inmates.”

According to preliminary estimates from the Department of Corrections, construction costs for the new facilities would total about $80 million.

As officials look at where to locate new facilities, we encourage officials to look at reopening the closed Southern Oaks Girls School in Dover where the Southern Wisconsin Veterans Center is located. This would be a good use of the facility and moving youth here would help bring many of them closer to home and closer to their support networks.

We look forward to Walker announcing more details about his plan during his State of the State address later this month and we recommend officials move forward swiftly. This shouldn’t be delayed. This is safety we are talking about. It needs to be a high priority.


Wisconsin State Journal, Jan. 10

Savor the Madison region’s sky-high news

It’s been an exciting few weeks for Dane County’s airport and economy.

First, the Pentagon picked Madison’s Air National Guard base at Truax Field in Madison as the future home of 18 F-35 fighter jets.

Then, United Airlines announced it will begin daily nonstop commercial flights between Madison and San Francisco in June.

Congratulations to the many public officials and private advocates who helped make these improvements become reality for south-central Wisconsin.

The Air Force was looking at several possible locations around the country for its most advanced fighter jets but picked Truax Field late last month. The designation will strengthen the 115th Fighter Wing here, as well as the economy.

Truax Field is the military operations at the Dane County Regional Airport. It employs 445 full-time people in addition to 700 National Guard members who participate in periodic drills. The base delivers $100 million in annual economic impact to the region and provides emergency services for the commercial airport.

Truax has long been home to a squadron of F-16 fighter jets, which are being replaced by the F-35s. Had Madison not been chosen for the F-35s, the base could have closed.

The economic benefits of landing the F-35s in Madison were evident by the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce raising money to help push for the Truax location.

The local chamber and Madison’s growing technology sector also are ecstatic about having nonstop commercial flights to San Francisco, which is near Silicon Valley, the top U.S. technology hub. Having such an easy and fast connection between San Francisco and Madison should help lure more investment and increase business ties between the two regions. In addition, San Francisco has federal laboratories and academic research centers, similar to UW-Madison.

Madison will be the smallest city east of the Mississippi River to have nonstop flights to San Francisco, and the only one in Wisconsin.

It shows our regional economy and reputation for innovation are truly taking off.

The F-35s will start to arrive at the Dane County airport in 2023, assuming an environmental impact study goes smoothly.

Critics worry the warplanes will be loud and expensive. But they are expected to fly less often than the F-16s because pilots will rely more on simulation. The F-35s also do not have to use afterburners on takeoff, which should limit noise.

The military budget needs more scrutiny from Congress. But the decision to invest in F-35s, which will give America superior air power over its adversaries, has already been made.

Madison will make a great home for these stealthy aircraft. And our regional airport will continue to expand with better connections.

That’s a lot to celebrate and support.

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