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Walker wants to move up youth-prison closings

Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Scott Walker called on the Republican-controlled Legislature on Tuesday to act this year to turn Wisconsin’s troubled youth-detention center into an adult prison, seeking a faster schedule than he had originally proposed just two weeks ago.

Walker’s plan calls for removing juveniles from the Lincoln Hills-Copper Lake juvenile prison north of Irma and converting that into an adult medium-security prison. Five new smaller, regional male juvenile prisons will be built, as well as a new, expanded mental-health hospital in Madison for female inmates.

Walker said Tuesday that his administration would issue a bid request by Jan. 22 to select an architecture-engineering firm to draw up designs the new juvenile-justice centers. The firm would be selected in October.

The greater urgency comes amid Democratic criticism of Walker for initially saying that he would wait until 2019 to request $80 million to open five regional juvenile prisons, assuming he wins re-election in November. But Walker on Tuesday called for the  Legislature to adopt his plan this spring rather than next year.

“Both Republicans and Democrats collaborated on this plan and agreed it offers the best way forward,” Walker said in a statement. “Together we can move this through the Legislature to improve juvenile corrections and treatment through transitioning to smaller, more regional corrections facilities and focusing on mental health and trauma-informed care.”

Democrats and other critics have said Walker is moving too slowly to deal with violence at Lincoln Hills, which has for three years been the subject of a federal investigation into inmate abuse and is now named in various federal lawsuits alleging wrongdoing.

Workers at the prison have also complained about increasingly dangerous conditions at the prison, especially since a federal court order last summer severely curtailing the use of solitary confinement, arm and leg restraints and pepper spray.

Assembly Republicans are also working on a bill that would take oversight of the state’s most serious juvenile offenders away from the Department of Corrections and give it to county governments.

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