Deadline to close Lincoln Hills youth prison passes, problems mount
LINCOLN COUNTY, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Wisconsin's troubled Lincoln Hills youth prison was supposed to close five days ago. That deadline has not been met. Now, a conservative watchdog group reports problems at the prison have only grown worse.
Lawmakers worked out a deal to reform the state's juvenile justice system several years ago, which including building smaller facilities around the state, expanding the Mendota Mental Health Center for kids, and close Lincoln Hills.
But closing Lincoln Hills has been the problem.
"Incident rates of violence skyrocketing, attacks on staff members up by unbelievable numbers, sexual assault rates up 75 percent," said Empower Wisconsin Executive Director Matt Kittle.
He said the documents his organization obtained paint a bleak picture of the troubled Lincoln Hills facility.
"Governor Tony Evers campaigned not only on closing the facility but on changing the culture within and making it safe," said Kittle.
Lawmakers created a reform plan known as Act 185 which included a July first closing for Lincoln Hills. That deadline has passed.
"You can't build facilities within a week, and we've had a couple years to build those facilities without the money, and you can't build without money," said Governor Tony Evers. (D)
"We made the commitment, the legislature voted unanimously, and then the momentum faded, money dried up," said State Rep. Michael Schraa. (R-Oskosh)
Lawmakers approved $4 million in the state budget to plan for a replacement. Evers had requested ten times that amount. Schraa said he's drafting a bill providing around $50 million to replace Lincoln Hills.
"It can't just fade into the background again like it did last time," said Schraa.
Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley said the state needs to act this time.
"You have to put the resources where they need to be in order for Act 185 to work," said Crowley.
The Wisconsin Department of Corrections said Empower Wisconsin's findings do not match publicly available data.
DOC would always like incidents of injury to staff and youth to be lower, and staff safety is a top priority for the agency. That’s one reason DOC’s Division of Juvenile Corrections is transitioning to Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) as the primary behavior therapy at Lincoln Hills School/Copper Lake School. We take an evidence-based approach and DBT has shown positive results in other states who have used it in juvenile correctional settings. We believe it will help grow the level of engagement between youth and staff at the facility, reducing the amount of physical interventions and overall rates of incidents involving the youth in our care, improving safety for the youth and our staff.
Schraa said there is a chance hearings will be held on Lincoln Hills in the future.