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Wisconsin Assembly unanimously OKs bill to close troubled youth prison, 90-0

Lincoln Hills

MADISON — The state Assembly has put the final stamp of approval on a plan to close Wisconsin’s troubled youth prison.

The chamber passed an $80 million juvenile justice overhaul plan unanimously Thursday that calls for closing the prison outside Irma by 2021 and replacing it with smaller regional facilities. The measure now goes to Gov. Scott Walker.

The measure cleared the Assembly unanimously in February and passed the Senate unanimously on Tuesday. The bill had to come back to the Assembly for a final vote, though, because the Senate included new language that requires the Legislature’s budget committee to sign off on any spending on new juvenile facilities after the youth prison closes. Both houses must pass the identical bill before it can go to the governor.

Federal investigators have been probing allegations of guards abusing inmates the prison for the past three years.

Gov. Scott Walker issued the following statement:

“Over the past year, we’ve worked with county officials, members of the judiciary, and lawmakers in both political parties on juvenile justice reform,” Governor Walker said. “I thank members in both parties for their commitment to long-term solutions, and because of our work together, we are helping improve long-term outcomes for both juveniles and our staff in these facilities.”

Youth Justice Milwaukee co-founders Sharlen Moore and Jeffery Roman released the following statement:

“Today, we turned a page with a vote to close Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake, but our leaders need to remember that as far as youth prisons go, Lincoln Hills is notorious, but it is not unique. All youth prisons are ineffective, costly and abusive, so moving forward, let’s not repeat past mistakes. Our lawmakers must not ignore the people that this legislation will affect the most. Now, more than ever, community activists and young people need to be a part of designing the future of youth justice in Wisconsin. We were reminded of the consequences that come when communities are powerless in these decisions by the tragic details of the $18.9 million settlement our state made earlier this week. We need a meaningful seat at the table in this conversation – on the study committee – to ensure that we don’t end up with another broken, traumatizing youth prison.

“For years, we’ve watched as young people from our communities — the majority of whom are youth of color – were taken far away from their families and locked up in a prison that is known for its abuse. Wisconsin doesn’t need another Lincoln Hills and we don’t want another brick-and-bars locked building. Instead, let’s work toward real investment in community solutions. Let’s create a better Wisconsin together.”