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JFC unanimously approves addition to juvenile treatment center

The Wisconsin Legislature’s budget committee unanimously voted to begin work on an addition to a Madison mental-health-treatment center for juvenile offenders.

The Joint Committee on Finance on Thursday approved a request from the Department of Health Services to build a 50-bed addition to the Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center. The project would allow the Madison center to house as many as 30 more boys and 20 girls. Its current capacity is 29 boys.

Gov. Tony Evers’ administration has authorized spending nearly $66 million on the project. A Legislative Fiscal Bureau review said the total bonding that could be made available for the project is about $59 million, and the DHS requested nearly $7 million in additional funding in its 2021-23 budget submission. The agency still needed approval from the JFC to begin construction.

“It’s a win for the state, it’s a win for the taxpayers and mainly it’s a win for these kids,” said Sen. Mary Felzkowski, a Republican whose district includes the juvenile prisons. She said investing in the Madison unit will save taxpayer money and provide better services to the youth treated there.

The center will reduce the number of juveniles housed at the Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls, both north of Wausau. The project is part of a plan to close the juvenile prisons, which have been the target of numerous lawsuits alleging abuse by guards and criminal investigations. The deadline to close the prisons is July, but both Republicans and Democrats acknowledge the deadline will not be met.

About Michaela Paukner, mpaukner@wislawjournal.com

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