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Timeline to close youth prisons in limbo again

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MADISON (WKOW) -- The timeline to close the troubled youth prisons is once again in limbo after Republicans on the budget committee rejected plans to build two new facilities to house the most serious offenders.

The Joint Finance Committee voted Wednesday to approve four county-run facilities to house lower-offenders instead, which Democrats fear could delay the process of closing Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake even longer. Republicans said the state doesn’t have the funds to build new facilities.

This plan was approved along party lines and ended without any solutions on where to place the most serious offenders.

Democrats said this means the existing prison probably won’t shut down by the July 2021 deadline.

In 2018 the legislature unanimously voted to close both youth facilities by 2021, but a year later Gov. Tony Evers extended the deadline by six months.

The four counties approved to receive grant money will either renovate or expand upon existing juvenile detention centers. In total, $111 million will be distributed between Brown, Dane, Racine and Milwaukee county and before the money is issued, the state’s Building Commission will need to sign off for final approval.

Dane County is slated to receive $6.5 million to renovate the Dane County Juvenile Detention Center. 

John Bauman Dane County Juvenile Court Administrator John Bauman said he’s concerned lawmakers didn’t approve plans for serious offenders but said the county will be ready to house inmates closer to home.

"It makes sense for our kids, it makes sense for our kids to be in their community, and to be closer to family," said Bauman.

Representative Evan Goyke (D-Milwaukee) emotions ran high as Milwaukee was shorted only receiving $8.4 million instead of $23.6 million to build a new facility. 

“I'm mad, I'm loud and I'm angry because it's been too damn long that we haven't acted to actually bring the closure of Lincoln Hills and this motion to delay the funding only delays that by another couple years,” said Rep. Goyke.

Representative Mark Born (R-Beaver Dam) rebutted calling the plan a step towards progress.

“This is a difficult issue ... we're not fully funding all of these plans but were are moving forward with a major investment in an important part of this plan to reform our juvenile justice system,” said Born.

Department of Corrections Secretary Kevin Carr told reporters after the hearing he would talk to Evers about other possible areas to build new prisons. He also expressed concerns the cost of building them should be a factor as he believes it’s best for youth offenders.

“Right now we’re making the decision not to spend our money to do what's best for the kids of this state and move these type two projects forward," said Carr.

Emilee Fannon

Capital Bureau Chief

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