Gov. Walker plans to close Lincoln Hills-Copper Lake prisons

Published: Jan. 4, 2018 at 12:20 PM CST
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Juveniles will no longer be housed at a Wisconsin youth prison that's been under federal investigation and the subject of multiple lawsuits alleging inmate abuse.

Gov. Scott Walker announced Thursday that the Lincoln Hills-Copper Lake prisons will be changed into medium security adult prisons. The state will instead open five regional juvenile prisons across the state.

The Wisconsin Department of Corrections Secretary Jon Litscher says the transition will take about three years. He says early estimates show building the five new facilities will cost roughly $80 million.

Sec. Litscher says the decision comes after months of researching other state's juvenile prison system and planning how to execute a new correctional program in Wisconsin.

"There's no catalyst here. This has been a planning environment over the course of the past and as a result, we're at this place because now I think that there's a willingness to understand that this is the next step in the movement next step in the transition," Litscher said.

He says the state decided to create five regional facilities so youth being sent to correctional institutions could stay close to home.

"Evidence-based practices says that their recidivism and return to the community is much better adjusted if we can provide the services within the community," Litscher said.

Litscher says he's hoping they can build systems within the community to help kids better transition.

"We think we can develop a better mentorship program for these young boys and young ladies for when they come out and that mentorship, we know, has been proven successful in other states," Litscher said.

Litscher says the Department of Corrections will be working closely with counties throughout the state to find the best locations to house the new facilities.

"We want to provide a safe and secure environment, not only for the staff, but also for the young men and women that are sent to us for assistance in meeting their needs," Litscher said.

Last year a federal judge ordered the state to dramatically reduce its use of solitary confinement, shackles and pepper spray on inmates at the juvenile prison. The facility is located about 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of Wausau.

The announcement comes as Walker is up for re-election to a third term in November. He has never traveled to visit Lincoln Hills, a point his Democratic opponents have been hitting him on for months.

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