A committee charged with dismantling the state’s youth prison has pared down a list of possible sites for new prisons, but it could cost more and take longer to overhaul the system than initially expected.
The Wisconsin Department of Corrections will wait until Gov.-elect Tony Evers takes office before submitting a plan to replace the troubled Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls in Irma. The move comes after the Legislature in March passed an $80 million plan to close the prison and set up a committee that could identify possible sites for a replacement.
The 25-member Juvenile Corrections Study Committee, which concluded its work in October, named as its top choice a site on Mill Road and 76th Street in Milwaukee. The committee also identified seven other sites as finalists, selecting them from among a list of 20 possible locations. The Legislature’s plan calls for establishing between one and three state-run prisons and as many as five county group homes.
The final say on recommendations lies with the state DOC and whatever leadership team follows Evers into office, said Tristan Cook, DOC spokesman.
“We plan to provide the Juvenile Corrections Study Committee’s recommendations to the new Department leadership team as part of the transition process,” Cook said. “The Department is not planning to make a decision regarding the locations of the Type 1 facilities until after Governor-elect Evers takes office.”
Lawmakers last spring unanimously passed legislation requiring the overhaul of the state’s prison system to wrap up by 2021. That law came two years after state authorities had raided Lincoln Hills as part of an investigation into inmate abuse.
In looking for new locations, the site-selection committee is trying to avoid circumstances that critics believe led to some of the troubles at the current site. Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake are the only prisons of their kind in Wisconsin for juvenile offenders, 80 percent of whom hail from more than three hours away in the southeast corner of the state.
The state’s overhauled prison system would consist of smaller, regional centers run closer to where inmates live.
The commission said it prefers the Milwaukee site for its proximity to public transportation and its location between interstates 41 and 43, according to meeting documents. The committee’s recommendations also favor sites in the town of Hortonia in Outagamie County, the town of Winchester in Winnebago County, the Northern Wisconsin Center in Chippewa County, the Fox Valley Region, Grow Academy in Dane County, Wisconsin Center in Union Grove and the village of Wales in Waukesha County.
With a new administration taking over, state officials could need more time than allowed by the legislation calling for a juvenile-system overhaul.
That same law set aside $25 million for a new state prison. The DOC estimates a project of that sort would cost between $27 million and $30 million.
Marye Beth Dugan, executive director of the Milwaukee-based nonprofit group the Nehemiah Project and a member of the corrections study committee, said she favors having youth prisons that could provide inmates with instruction and training in the skilled trades.
“We want to be able to provide the best possible care and opportunities for optimal outcomes,” Dugan said. “A facility rich in programming with solid education, training in skilled trades and and employability readiness skills.” Follow @natebeck9