Wisconsin Will Close Two Juvenile Facilities Under Federal Investigation

Aubrey Yates
January 13, 2018

Gov. Scott Walker plans to convert the Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls into a prison for adult inmates - a move that would close a dark chapter for the youth prison that has been plagued by allegations of inmate abuse and unsafe working conditions for staff.

The two correctional facilities had become for many juvenile justice advocates thesymbol of everything that could go wrong in a state system, with allegations of overcrowding, systemic abuse and near-Victorian squalor over almost a decade.

Lee said he spoke with staffers from the governor's office about the plan on Thursday before it was publicly announced.

Juveniles would no longer be housed at a Wisconsin youth prison complex that's been the target of a federal investigation and multiple lawsuits alleging inmate abuse under an $80 million plan announced Thursday by Gov. Scott Walker. It's been campaigning to close the juvenile facilities for the past two years. Lawmakers would need to approve the plan.

Up to three new prisons would be in southeastern Wisconsin near Milwaukee, though the sites have not yet been chosen. While smaller than the hundreds that the facilities can now hold, Jeffery Roman says the plans would still house too many youth in one facility. Investigations showed the facilities improperly trained staff, did not preserve video evidence, failed to document serious incidents and often failed to report incidents to parents and police, according to reports by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

-Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake would be transitioned into a medium-security adult prison.

"Republicans and Democrats alike agree this is the way forward to reform juvenile corrections", Walker said.

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Many key details are yet to be determined, however, including how education programs would be provided to the inmates and whether converting the Irma campus into an adult facility would require the approval of Lincoln County officials.

Work with state and local officials to make sure that new detention centers are accessible but also safely distant from one another (Lincoln Hills and Copper Lakes were both in rural, northwest Wisconsin, while most of its detainees were from Milwaukee, in the state's southeast corner).

Models from other states, such as Missouri which has been cited in 7 Investigates' past coverage and recommended by experts during legal hearing against the facility, were the basis for his directive.

Problems at the juvenile prisons have been developing for years. His plan doesn't call for opening the new regional prisons until 2019 at the earliest. How many lives have been ruined?

Reform Wisconsin's juvenile corrections and treatment systems to align with nationally recognized best practices.

"For years, Gov. Walker has known that Wisconsin youth are being treated inhumanely", Wachs said via Twitter.

While some Democrats hailed the proposal, others called it a tactic to smooth over hurdles in Walker's re-election bid for a third term.

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