By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — While Gov. Tony Evers and his administration complain about the Republican-controlled legislature’s lack of action on the state’s troubled prison for the most serious youth offenders, a lawmaker who lives in the shadow of Lincoln Hills says Team Evers could be doing a lot more.
Department of Corrections Secretary Kevin Carr last week told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel the state won’t be able to close the Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls for at least four years. Carr, as his boss has, blamed lawmakers for not delivering full funding to build new facilities to replace the controversial juvenile correctional facilities.
State Sen. Mary Felzkowski (R-Irma), who lives in the northern Wisconsin community that’s home to Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake, says Evers and the DOC are “sitting on their hands.”
“They have the money to come up with a design and they’re failing to do that,” Felzkowski told Empower Wisconsin. “This is government bureaucracy at its finest,” she sarcastically added.
Felzkowski agrees the Legislature has some “ownership” in failing to get key projects funded, but it has come through on some major pieces of the juvenile corrections puzzle. In May, the Joint Finance Committee unanimously approved a 50-bed expansion at the Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center. The project, including $66 million in state borrowing, will provide psychiatric evaluation, treatment and housing for female juvenile offenders.
At the same time, Felzkowski said the Evers administration could be doing more to resolve the ongoing squabbles surrounding juvenile detention in Milwaukee. The state is mulling opening a new facility at the site of the Felmers O. Chaney Correctional Center, now housing adult inmates. The idea is to close the Irma facilities and move youth offenders closer to their homes. Many of the inmates are from the Milwaukee area.
There have been local objections to the plan to open a Type-1 juvenile correctional facility at the adult prison, however. Some Milwaukee juvenile justice advocates question the need for new youth prisons.
Racine County is getting $40 million in state funding for a juvenile correctional facility.
Felzkowski said Evers has shown no urgency in working through the issues, including taking up alternative proposals from Senate Democrats. There are administrative actions the Evers administration can take to move the process along.
“All they’re doing is finger-pointing,” she said.