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Bipartisan bill to build juvenile prison near Milwaukee

The Lincoln Hills juvenile prison in Irma. A bill introduced into the Wisconsin Legislature would authorize the state to borrow $42 million to build a replacement near Milwaukee of both Lincoln Hills and the separate Copper Lake juvenile prison. (Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel via AP, File)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A new juvenile prison would be built near Milwaukee under a bipartisan bill that would authorize borrowing $42 million for the project.

The proposal comes after years of delays in closing the embattled Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake juvenile prisons north of Wausau in Irma. The state missed a July deadline last year to close the juvenile prisons, which have been the subjects of lawsuits alleging abuse by guards, multimillion-dollar settlements and criminal investigations.

Even if the bill wins approval, it could be years before the prison is built. The old juvenile prisons are expected to be turned into minimum-security adult prisons.

Nearly four years ago, then-Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill authorizing a plan to close Lincoln Hills by January 2021 and replace it with smaller, regional prisons. Money has been on offer to counties to build youth corrections centers and lawmakers have approved money to add on to the juvenile mental-health-treatment center in Madison.

But attempts to find money and a site for a new prison for more serious juvenile offenders have stalled.

Gov. Tony Evers’ spokeswoman Britt Cudaback said he’s happy to see the plans move forward in the Legislature but it’s unfortunate it has taken so long to get to this stage.

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