Gov. Scott Walker’s plan to move youthful offenders from prisons in northern Wisconsin to new regional facilities wouldn’t kick in until at least 2019.
But with some Dems complaining the transition of offenders wouldn’t be fast enough, Walker’s office signaled late this afternoon he was ready to work with lawmakers to speed up the process.
“Governor Walker’s plan significantly reforms our juvenile corrections system and we want to work with all parties to implement it in a thoughtful and purposeful way,” said Walker spokesman Tom Evenson. “If the Legislature wants to advance the plan sooner we would be supportive of those efforts.”
In announcing the plan, Walker’s office highlighted support from some Dems, including Rep. Evan Goyke, of Milwaukee, and Milwaukee County Exec Chris Abele.
Other Dems, though, knocked the plan as an election-year gimmick, and Goyke sent a letter to Corrections Chair Michael Schraa, R-Oshkosh, asking for a public hearing on a bipartisan bill that pushed a similar regional approach to juvenile corrections.
Schraa’s office said it received the letter late this afternoon and did not have an immediate response.
Kate Constalie, a spokeswoman for Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, said Dems proposed a series of motions during the budget and other legislation designed to address the problems at Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake, but Republicans have so far rejected them.
“They had all sorts of different motions that would address the safety and staffing shortages and yet all the Republicans voted them down,” she said. “I feel like they’re just punting and trying to put the ball in our court.”
Evenson said the package has been in the works for more than a year, calling it a “thoughtful approach.”
“This is about improving long-term outcomes, not only for the juveniles in our care, but the staff at the facilities,” he said.
Read the Goyke letter:
See more on AB 791:
Walker’s plan calls for $80 million in borrowing during the 2019-21 budget to fund the new regional facilities.
But retrofitting Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake into a medium-security adult prison would be an additional cost.
Along with the five regional facilities, the plan also calls for expanding the Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center. Evenson said some male inmates could move into that facility as early as this fall.
According to the guv’s office, the regional facilities would have between 32 and 36 beds, and the state also would work with Lincoln County on the transition of the youth prisons to a medium-security adult facility. The guv’s office said that would maintain and potentially expand the number of jobs there.
It also would likely reduce DOC’s reliance on contract beds sometimes located in county jails for housing male inmates and increase the capacity for those with alcohol and drug abuse treatment needs. According to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, DOC has funding for 1,109 contract beds in 2017-18, and 977 in 2018-19.
DOC spokesman Tristan Cook said the department will work with the Department of Administration’s Division of Facility Development in the next biennium to estimate projected costs and begin the design process for five new regional facilities. One would be north of a line between Manitowoc and La Crosse, while Cook told WisPolitics.com that three of those facilities are slated to be located in southeastern Wisconsin.
DOC will work with counties to determine the location of the fifth facility.
DOC plans to convert the Copper Lake and Lincoln Hills schools to an adult facility sometime after they transfer inmates to other facilities. Staff at the institution will have the option to work in the new adult facility or transfer to a juvenile facility.
There is an ongoing federal probe at the prison over the treatment of inmates, and the ACLU filed a lawsuit that resulted in a federal judge order requiring changes in the use of solitary confinement, restraints and pepper spray.