By Gretchen Schuldt
The Legislature's Joint Finance Committee slashed by 91 percent Gov. Tony Evers' proposed capital budget for the Department of Corrections.
The committee approved a $24.2 million capital budget for the Corrections Department, down $234.8 million from the $259 million Evers proposed.
The bulk of the JFC's cut – $225 million – came from wiping out the proposed budgets for juvenile corrections regional facilities ($115 million) and proposed county-run secure juvenile facilities ($100 million).
The committee also killed new inmate housing for Taycheedah and Jackson Correctional Institutions, budgeted by Evers at $5 million and $10 million, respectively. Funding for a new restrictive housing unit at Lincoln Hills / Copper Lake was reduced from $10.3 million to $500,000.
The committee retained the $8.1 million Evers proposed for heating and ventilation improvements at the Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility, and $10.6 million Evers proposed for a new health services unit at the Stanley Correctional Institution.
JFC also added $5 million in spending to begin work on replacing the Green Bay Correctional Institution.
The Legislature, in the wake of the scandal surrounding the gross mistreatment of youths at the two juvenile prisons, voted to close them. They are supposed to eventually be replaced by a new state-run juvenile prison and county-run secure residential facilities.
Evers said this week, however, that meeting the 2021 goal to build the new facilities may be impossible.
The proposed Lincoln Hills / Copper Lake restrictive housing unit slashed by JFC would be used after the juvenile prisons are closed and re-opened as an adult facility, according to budget documents. Evers has proposed the site house a new minimum security prison, according to budget documents.
The JFC-approved 19,282-square-foot Stanley Health Services Unit would replace the existing 6,000-square-foot building.
The current building's layout contributes to potential violations of federal data privacy and security regulations related to medical information. It also makes it difficult to meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, according to Evers' capital budget proposal.
"The area that is designated for airborne isolation is used to accommodate supply storage due to a lack of designated storage," the document said. "Holding cells have been converted into exam rooms to accommodate daily patient volumes."
Building a new health unit would allow staff to provide care now and "allow the institution to make accommodations for the care of the inmates as the population ages and better address the needs of inmates who have been diagnosed with chronic illnesses," the proposal said.
The 144-bed Taycheedah housing unit nixed by JFC was proposed to address overcrowding in women's facilities. The Taycheedah population on June 7 was 935, and had a desigh capacity of 653; the Robert E. Ellsworth Correctional Center had a 468, inmates in a facility designed for 230, and the Milwaukee Women's Center had 163 residents and a design capacity of 42, according to a DOC report.
DOC staff has worked "to creatively add bed space for the increasing female population but now has very limited space for additional beds without new construction," the budget document said. "Beds have been added by placing more beds per cell, renovating and reopening vacant space in older buildings, converting group rooms and classrooms to bed space, converting what was the Southern Oaks Girls School to additional space for the Robert E. Ellsworth Correctional Center, and increasing health and physiological services at (Ellsworth) to broaden the inmates eligible to transfer down to minimum security. "
The two new 144-bed Jackson barracks units were proposed to accommodate projected increases in inmate populations, the budget proposal said.
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