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Lincoln Hills

The Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls. 

The plan a key committee approved on Monday to partly replace the Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake youth prisons seeks about $30 million more than state lawmakers provided, yet falls short of the capacity needed to shut down the combined juvenile facility by 2021.

The 8-2 vote by the Juvenile Corrections Grant Committee to recommend plans for four county-run juvenile detention centers means lawmakers will likely need to come up with more money or Lincoln Hills’ planned 2021 closure could be threatened. They may also need to prioritize creating more space to house youth.

It’s unclear what lawmakers would do if more state funding isn’t approved for the plan that is already falling short of expectations.

“We wanted to create a different model,” said Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, who helped craft the legislation overhauling the state’s juvenile justice system. “When we look at what we’ve done here, we actually aren’t getting another model. We’re getting a Frankenstein model. We’re working with what we’ve got, trying to make the best of it.”

The grant committee’s draft report underscores that the capacity provided by the four proposed county facilities is about 52 to 66 beds short of the nearly 180 beds needed. The report also highlights the fact the plan falls short of lawmakers’ goal to have county-run juvenile lockups spread across the state. No counties in northern or western Wisconsin put forward proposals.

“My concern ... is that a statewide plan needs to be truly statewide and include participants from the west side of the state as well as the far northern part of the state,” Department of Corrections Secretary Kevin Carr said after the meeting.

The Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee is the next body to review the plans.

Following years of abuse allegations at the combined northern Wisconsin youth prison, lawmakers and former Republican Gov. Scott Walker last year approved a plan to replace the youth prisons with smaller, regional facilities, an expanded youth treatment center at Mendota Mental Health Institute in Madison and a few state-run facilities for youth who have committed more serious crimes.

Lawmakers through the state budget process approved $80 million for counties, $47 million to the state and $59 million to the Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center to overhaul the state’s juvenile justice system and shut down Lincoln Hills. But as was made clear over the summer, the price tag for county facilities was greater than anticipated.

Four Wisconsin counties put forward proposals to construct juvenile facilities, otherwise known as Secure Residential Care Centers for Children and Youth: Brown, Dane, Milwaukee and Racine. The most expensive plan is from Brown County, which is seeking as much as $43 million. Racine County is seeking $40 million, and Milwaukee County wants about $24 million in state funds.

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The cheapest plan is from Dane County, which wants about $6.5 million in state funding to expand an existing short-term detention facility. In total, the plans would cost the state about $113 million, roughly $33 million short of the state funding already set aside.

“I think it’s been very clear from the beginning of this debate that there was always going to be more dollars required,” Carr said.

Key pair agree

The two Republicans on the grant committee who also sit on the Joint Finance Committee — Sen. Alberta Darling, of River Hills, and Rep. Mark Born, of Beaver Dam — agreed the state will likely need to provide more funding for county facilities.

“Likely more money is necessary,” Born said. “I think it’s unlikely that we will be able to meet that goal with the $80 million.”

Born said lawmakers should be able to close Lincoln Hills by the 2021 deadline with only the four county proposals, though he, too, thinks the plan could be improved by having a facility in western or northern Wisconsin.

Second phase?

If the Legislature’s budget-writing committee approves the $113 million counties are seeking, Carr said there could be a second phase of the process where the committee could invite more counties in the northern and western parts of the state to apply to build a facility.

Sharlen Moore, a member of the grant committee and co-founder of Urban Underground, a youth grassroots group in Milwaukee, criticized the plan for straying from the vision lawmakers had for small facilities located close to youth offenders’ homes.

“I was more ... excited about the smaller, residential, closer to home (facilities),” Moore said. “And I think we moved so far away from that.”

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