Budget committee approves funding to build new youth prison near Milwaukee

NOW: Budget committee approves funding to build new youth prison near Milwaukee

MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- In a unanimous vote, the Legislature's budget committee approved a plan to relocate dozens of juveniles to a new youth prison in Milwaukee County.

It marks the next step toward replacing the troubled youth prisons Lincoln Hills and Cooper Lake after the facilities became the center of controversiescenter of controversies in 2018.

The Republican-led Joint Committee on Finance approved the $42 million plan that will give the state bonding authority to build a new youth detention center near Milwaukee.

It comes a week after the state Assembly approved a bipartisan bill to replace the teen prisons, which also includes plans to keep Lincoln Hills open to eventually house adult offenders.

The proposal will require Wisconsin's Department of Administration to sign off on where the new youth prison winds up as long as local officials approve of the location. It's a task Milwaukee Democrats said is easier said than done.

"Locating facilities is always tricky," said State Rep. Evan Goyke (D-Milwaukee). "You have to consider costs, if we have to acquire land."

The Evers administration has considered the Felmers O. Chaney Correctional Center, which some opposesome oppose because it's used to help inmates prepare to reenter the workforce.

Goyke is hesitant to transform Felmers into a youth prison because he's a strong advocate for reentry programs that aim to reduce recidivism.

"I want to maintain that type of facility, we should actually have more of those, not less, that's why I'm concerned we would lose those opportunities," Goyke said.

It's a location Democrats from Milwaukee are split on.

State Senator LaTonya Johnson understands Goyke's concerns but believes the Felmers Correctional Center is the simplest solution because it will save time and resources.

"Picking that location would shave off two years of reopening a new facility in Milwaukee," Johnson said. "It's extremely exciting because those kids get to come home and have a permanent placement that much sooner."

All Democrats agree, it will take time to reach an agreement.

"Everyone wants our children back in the community, but you still have the perception not in my backyard," said Johnson.

Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley did not respond to questions about what locations they might be considering for a new youth prison, but he applauded lawmakers for approving the funding.

"I thank those lawmakers for voting to approve this critical funding," Crowley said in a statement. "I have consistently advocated for the youth to be closer to their families and communities."

Democrats and Republicans unanimously agreed to close the youth prisons back in 2018, but since then progress has been stalled largely due to lawmakers not approving funding to close Lincoln Hills and Cooper Lake.

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