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New State-Run Youth Prisons Announced For Milwaukee, Outagamie County

Facilities Part Of Plan To Replace Embattled Lincoln Hills, Copper Lake Facilities

Cooper Lake and Lincoln Hills
Gilman Halsted/WPR

Two new youth prisons will be built in Milwaukee and Outagamie County to replace Wisconsin’s embattled youth prison, Gov. Tony Evers announced Tuesday.

The new state-run facilities will be located at the intersection of Teutonia Avenue and Mill Road in Milwaukee and in the Outagamie County community of Hortonia. They are part of a larger plan to relocate inmates from the Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls to several smaller, regional facilities located throughout Wisconsin.

“We are committed to getting kids out of Lincoln Hills and closer to home as soon as we safely and responsibly can,” Evers said in a prepared statement. “Today’s announcements show significant action toward our shared goal of ensuring kids get the education, programming and mental health treatment they need in supportive settings that are closer to their families and communities.”

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State lawmakers last year approved a plan to close Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake by 2021, following years of allegations of inmate abuse and neglect.

Under Evers’ budget proposal, that deadline is eliminated — a move that has concerned a number of lawmakers and advocates. Evers has said the state needs to be realistic about the timeframe for establishing new facilities.

The governor on Tuesday also laid the groundwork for building other, county-run regional facilities across the state. He announced the creation of the committee that will work with counties to approve state grants that will help build those prisons. The committee will be helmed by Rep. David Crowley, D-Milwaukee, and include the heads of the state Department of Corrections and Department of Children and Families.

“Research shows that children in incarceration make significant strides toward positive change when they are closer to their communities and loved ones,” said Corrections Secretary-designee Kevin Carr in a prepared statement. “I look forward to working with the Grant Committee and Wisconsin counties to develop a network of local opportunities to support our youth.”

Evers directed the committee to begin work next week.

Allegations of inmate neglect and abuse have plagued Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake for years, resulting in state and federal investigations and numerous staff resignations. Staffing shortages have also been an issue at the institutions.

Last year, the state paid nearly $19 million to a former inmate who tried to kill herself in her cell in 2015, resulting in permanent brain injuries.

According to a report released in January, the facilities continue to use pepper spray and solitary confinement to punish inmates.