Wisconsin juvenile prisons (copy)

Juveniles would no longer be housed in a single facility like the Lincoln Hills School for Boys under a proposal by Gov. Scott Walker and Assembly Republicans. 

A Senate leader said Tuesday she likes the proposed juvenile corrections overhaul and believes the Senate will vote unanimously to close the state’s youth prison.

But Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, also indicated the Assembly-written $80 million overhaul bill may need changes or further explanation to pass the Senate.

“The cost is a big issue and I think we can’t promise this is going to cost less right away,” said Darling, co-leader of the Legislature’s budget-writing committee. “I think that kind of rings a bell with me — you’re talking about a major investment; you’re talking about major challenges.”

At a hearing on the plan, Darling told bill authors Tuesday that she endorses the framework and objective of the plan to close the Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls in Irma by 2021 and open two new, smaller Department of Corrections facilities for serious juvenile offenders, and a series of county-run facilities for less-serious juvenile offenders. The plan provides options for state and county officials to move offenders to facilities where their needs can be met.

She said the Senate should look at the plan as “an opportunity about not having increasing costs” in the future.

“The cost is pretty intimidating but it’s something we need to do,” she said.

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Darling’s cautious optimism comes after Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said last week he couldn’t immediately get behind the current plan. On Monday he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel he thought there would be unanimous support to close the Irma prison by 2021.

“I think the Senate has to see that this is No. 1, better than what we’re doing now; that the cost will be more effective if we deal with the recidivism and if we look at how can we have better outcomes,” Darling said. “How can we reduce recidivism how can we reduce these kids from going into the corrections system? That will make a huge impact on the Senate in terms of impressions of safety and cost.”

But if the bill, written by the Assembly Corrections Committee, is amended it will need to return to the Assembly — which passed it last week and adjourned for the rest of the year — by April for the plan to meet its own timetable.

“I think the Senate has to feel they have a role at the table,” Darling said.

The Senate Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety held the hearing Tuesday, but the committee chairman said he wouldn’t call for a vote for about two weeks.

“I want to give senators time to get comfortable with the package,” said Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine.

Capital W: Plug in to Wisconsin politics

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