- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 12, 2019

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Wisconsin’s Department of Corrections will build two new juvenile detention facilities in Milwaukee and Outagamie counties to house serious juvenile offenders after the state’s troubled youth prison closes, Gov. Tony Evers said Tuesday.

The facilities will be located on the northern edge of the city of Milwaukee and in Hortonia, a town of about 1,000 people between New London and Hortonville. They will house serious offenders from Lincoln Hills/Copper Lake, the state’s troubled youth prison north of Wausau near Irma.

A study committee picked the Milwaukee location to make it easier for families to visit youth inmates, Evers‘ office said in a statement. Hortonia was chosen for its proximity to families with children in DOC custody, Evers said.

“We are committed to getting kids out of Lincoln Hills and closer to home as soon as we safely and responsibly can,” Evers said in a statement. “Today’s announcements show significant action towards our shared goal of ensuring kids get the education, programming and mental health treatment they need in supportive settings that are closer to their families and communities.”

Federal investigators are probing allegations of widespread abuse at the youth prison. It’s also been the subject of multiple lawsuits, including one that resulted in a federal judge ordering sweeping reductions in the use of pepper spray, solitary confinement and shackles on juveniles.

The Legislature last year unanimously approved a bill shuttering the troubled prison by 2021 and replacing it with smaller state- and county-run facilities. The law allowed for up to $80 million in borrowing to pay for those new prisons.

But Evers said the timeline was too aggressive and it would take more money to build the new facilities.

He wants to postpone closure of Lincoln Hills indefinitely until the replacements are built, an approach that Republicans have spoken out against. Evers is seeking $90 million in additional borrowing to build three new state facilities to house the most serious offenders. That includes the two prisons in Milwaukee and Outagamie counties he announced Tuesday.

Each one would house up to 36 inmates and include classrooms, computer labs and on-site food preparation. He’s also seeking an additional $60 million in borrowing to help fund grants for counties to build facilities for less-serious offenders as well as another $59 million to expand the Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center in Madison so it could house up to 50 juveniles with mental illness.

Republican state Rep. Michael Schraa, an Oshkosh Republican who leads the Assembly Committee on Corrections and co-authored the prison closure bill, questioned locating one of the prisons outside of southeastern Wisconsin since most of the inmates come from that region.

“I know there will be a lot of pushback,” Schraa said. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize the second facility probably should be built in the southern part of the state.”

Evers also announced Tuesday that Democratic state Rep. David Crowley of Milwaukee will lead a committee that will divvy up the counties’ grants. The deadline for counties to submit applications is March 31. The committee must submit recommended grant approvals to the Legislature’s budget-writing committee by July 1.

Van Wanggaard, a Racine Republican who serves as chairman of the Senate judiciary committee, said in a statement that he’s glad Evers finally recognizes the urgent need to replace the youth prison.


Associated Press writer Scott Bauer contributed to this story.


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