MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin’s Department of Corrections will build two new juvenile detention facilities in Milwaukee and Outagamie counties to house serious juvenile offenders after the state’s troubled youth prison closes, Gov. Tony Evers said Tuesday.
The facilities will be located on the northern edge of the city of Milwaukee and in Hortonia, a town of about 1,000 people between New London and Hortonville. They will house serious offenders from Lincoln Hills/Copper Lake, the state’s troubled youth prison near Irma.
A study committee picked the Milwaukee location to make it easier for families to visit youth inmates, Evers’ office said in a news release. Hortonia was chosen for its proximity to families with children in DOC custody.
“We are committed to getting kids out of Lincoln Hills and closer to home as soon as we safely and responsibly can,” Evers said in the release. “Today’s announcements show significant action towards our shared goal of ensuring kids get the education, programming and mental health treatment they need in supportive settings that are closer to their families and communities.”
Federal investigators are probing allegations of widespread abuse at the youth prison. Former Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, signed a bill last year that requires DOC to close the prison by 2021.
The measure allows DOC to borrow up to $40 million to build up smaller, regional facilities to house serious juvenile offenders and expand the Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center in Dane County. The bill also allows the state building commission to authorize up to $40 million in borrowing to fund grants for counties to build facilities to take in non-serious offenders from Lincoln Hills/Copper Lake.
Evers has said it’s unrealistic to expect DOC to close the prison by 2021. He also insists the agency and counties need more money to build their new facilities.
His capital budget seeks $90 million in additional borrowing for three state facilities. According to the capital budget, the facilities each would house up to 36 inmates and include classrooms, computer labs and on-site food preparation. He’s also seeking an additional $60 million in borrowing to help fund grants for counties.
Republicans have balked at any delay in closing the prison and have branded the capital budget’s spending levels “alarming.”
Evers also announced Tuesday that Democratic state Rep. David Crowley of Milwaukee will lead a committee that will divvy up the counties’ grants. The deadline for counties to submit applications is March 31. The committee must submit recommended grant approvals to the Legislature’s budget-writing committee by July 1.
State Rep. Michael Schraa, an Oshkosh Republican who leads the Assembly Committee on Corrections and co-authored the prison closure bill, didn’t immediately return a message left at his state Capitol office. An aide for Sen. Van Wanggaard, a Racine Republican who leads the Senate judiciary committee, also didn’t immediately return a message.