With Lincoln Hills Closure Delayed, Evers Planning To Add Staff At Troubled Prison

Milwaukee County Will Continue Planning For Its Juvenile Center

Lincoln Hills juvenile correction facility
Glen Moberg/WPR

Gov. Tony Evers’ budget proposal will include bonding to replace the state’s troubled juvenile prisons Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake, but the facilities won’t close their doors by 2021 as originally expected.

Instead, Evers will also include money in the budget to add staffing at Lincoln Hills and will recommend increasing pay for corrections employees.

Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake were set to close by 2021 after a law was passed unanimously through the Legislature last year and signed by then-Gov. Scott Walker.

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

“I appreciate the legislators’ concern about this, but the fact of the matter is in a rush to solve the problem, they didn’t take into account how long it takes to design and build facilities,” Evers told reporters Tuesday in Madison. “That is going to set us back a year or more.”

Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake, which are located north of Wausau, have been plagued by allegations of inmate abuse and neglect for years.

The juvenile jails will be replaced by two state-run, “Type 1” juvenile correctional facilities for youth convicted of serious crimes or those who were tried and convicted as adults. There will also be county-run residential centers for youth who have committed less-severe offenses that will include programing and workforce training.

The state Department of Corrections hasn’t said how many county-run centers there will be or where they will be located. Evers said the county-run sites have been selected and will go before the state building commission to be finalized.

Milwaukee County is the only location that has been announced as a site. About 65 percent of the youth at Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake are from Milwaukee and Milwaukee County officials are eager to get the youth home. The Department of Health and Human Services has been working on plans for its secured residential care center.

Mary Jo Meyers, director of the Department of Health and Human Services for Milwaukee County, said the department plans to stay the course, even with the delayed timeline.

“Our course of action remains the same as what we have been doing all along,” Meyers said. “We will be putting forth a proposal with plans for a smaller, more treatment-orientated youth care center. We just hope to continue to reach out to the state and let them know we are staying on track and will keep moving forward.”

In 2011, the health department launched a youth justice reform program called Project Rise. One aspect of the program is to educate the public about the trauma many of Milwaukee’s youth experience and the importance of family, the community and school to a young person’s overall health.

That same approach would be taken with the residential treatment center, Meyers said.

“We are still hopeful, even if it is delayed,” Meyers said. “We know (the state) has been looking at best practices and they also want to help us get our kids back.”

Evers said Tuesday the situation is not ideal, and he would prefer a more timely closure of Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake.

“What we are going to do in the meantime is make sure people who work there have the appropriate training, skill level and frankly are not having to work two or three double shifts a week,” Evers said. “All of those things are a recipe for disaster.”