The leader for the state’s Department of Corrections says it’s “very unlikely” a youth prison in northern Wisconsin will close when it’s supposed to after a committee voted down funding to build its replacements farther south.
Democrats aired their frustration with the vote during the Joint Finance Committee meeting Tuesday.
“Today should be, could be, could have been the day we actually realized and actually fulfilled the promise of Act 185 by properly funding the facilities needed,” said Rep. Evan Goyke, D-Milwaukee.
The state legislature agreed to close the youth prison, Lincoln Hills, in the 2018 Act 185 after many complaints and an attempted suicide, setting a deadline for 2021.
Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, said by not approving the money Tuesday, they were voting to keep those housed at Lincoln Hills where they are.
“There is no way you can go up to that facility and see those children and think you’re doing right by them,” Taylor said. “You are not. You are failing them, and you are choosing to fail them.”
The money would go toward building two replacement prisons, one in Milwaukee and one in Hortonia, however hundreds of residents in and around Hortonia signed a petition to get the second location moved somewhere else.
“The issue is, for the Type 1, we have to figure out what’s going to happen, and the location that was chosen for the Type 1 doesn’t work,” said Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills and Joint Finance Committee co-chair.
The committee did approve most funding for some county sites, including a $6.4 million investment in a youth detention center in Dane County.
Without the appropriately equipped facilities, classified as Type 1, it doesn’t fix the whole problem.
Another wrinkle lies in millions of dollars in unreleased funding for the Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center. An expansion would also take some kids that need to be removed from Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake, the girl’s facility, before closure in 2021.
The leader of the state department of corrections worries without these facilities in place, the state won’t be able to meet its deadline.
“The way that we demonstrate our priorities is where we put our investments, Where we spend our money,” said Department of Corrections Secretary Kevin Carr. “Right now we’re making a decision not to spend our money to do what’s best for the kids in this state and move these two type one projects forward.”
He said based on previous lawsuits dealing with Lincoln Hills, it’s possible a group like the ACLU could step in and force the legislature’s hand.