By Gretchen Schuldt
A bipartisan group of lawmakers is asking its colleagues to co-sponsor legislation to fully fund a new $42 million juvenile prison in Milwaukee County to replace the scandal-plagued Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake facilities in Irma.
The Legislature voted in 2018 to close Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake by July 1 of this year and transfer its residents either to a new Type 1 facility to house serious juvenile offenders, or to secure residential care centers that would be built in different areas of the state.
"That date has come and gone, and we have yet to break ground on the first state Type 1 building," the legislators said in the co-sponsorship memo they are circulating to their colleagues. It was authored by State Reps. Michael Schraa (R-Oshkosh), Calvin Callahan (R-Tomahawk), and Evan Goyke (D-Milwaukee), and Senators Van Wanggaard (R-Racine), Mary Felzkowski (R-Irma), and Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee).
A court-appointed monitor reported last month that youth at the facilities were growing more frustrated and the staff seemed defeated.
The new state budget includes $4 million for planning, design, and site selection for a new Type 1 facility, but does not include money to build it.
"In the four years since the passage of 2017 Act 185, the environment at Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake has remained unstable," the legislators wrote. "The pandemic only exacerbated the difficulties there, with programming pauses and staff turnover contributing to an explosion of violent activity in 2020."
A petition of no confidence against facility administrators by union employees showed that staff injuries were up 4,700% in the first six months of the year from the last six months of 2020. In addition, youth/staff battery was up 117%, sexual misconduct was up 75%, and use-of-force incidences were up 58%, the memo said.
"It is far past time for this facility to close," the memo said. "The Legislature must do its part and approve the funding for the new Type 1 correctional facility, for the sake of the employees who work there, and the youth that have been placed in the care of the state. It is our duty."
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