By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Republican leader of the Wisconsin Senate said on Wednesday that the state’s juvenile prison has “been a mess for some time” and that Gov. Scott Walker’s administration should have done more to deal with such concerns earlier.
Walker’s response to allegations of inmate abuse at the Lincoln Hills juvenile prison in Irma is a topic of debate in his re-election bid this year against Democrat Tony Evers, the state schools chief. Democrats have long faulted Walker for not doing enough to fix problems at the prison, which has been under criminal investigation for more than three years.
Walker and Republicans are trying to draw attention to Evers’ decision not to revoke the license of a teacher who was fired after viewing pornographic images on his work computer. Evers argued that he didn’t have power under the law to do it.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, during a conference call on Wednesday about Evers, was asked about whether Walker had done enough to deal with troubles at Lincoln Hills.
“Obviously, Lincoln Hills has been a mess,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s been a mess for some time.”
Fitzgerald said he wished the Department of Corrections, which is a part of Walker’s administration, had done something about the troubles at the youth prison earlier.
“I’m not necessarily shocked, but very disappointed, that more action wasn’t taken directly by DOC at the time,” he said.
Walker’s spokeswoman and a spokesman for the Corrections Department did not immediately reply to messages seeking comment.
The Lincoln Hills juvenile prison in Irma has been under federal investigation since December 2015, about a year after a state probe began. A Racine County judge sent Walker a letter in 2012 listing his concerns about how prison staff workers had responded after an inmate was sexually assaulted by his roommate and knocked out.
But Walker has said he never saw the letter, which aides said was received but never given to the governor.
Earlier this year, Wisconsin prison officials reached a legal settlement making widespread changes to the disciplinary measures used at the prison. In March, the state reached an $18.9 million settlement with one former juvenile inmate who suffered brain damage after she tried to hang herself in her cell.
Shortly after that settlement was reached, Walker signed a bill calling for the the Lincoln Hills prison to be closed by 2021 and replaced with smaller, regional prisons.