Lincoln Hills closure likely delayed after GOP lawmakers reject funding plans for two state-run facilities
By Jalen Maki
Tomahawk Leader Co-Editor
MADISON – The Republican-controlled state budget committee on Wednesday, Feb. 12 approved funding for four county-run youth detention facilities but rejected plans to build two state-run facilities, a decision that will likely push back the closing of the Lincoln Hills/Copper Lake juvenile detention center in Irma.
Lawmakers voted in 2018 to close the youth prison and replace it with a total of six regional state- and county-run facilities after years of accusations of abuse and neglect by staff against inmates and millions of dollars in legal settlements against the state. The facility is required to close by July 1, 2021, a deadline approved by lawmakers and signed into law by Governor Tony Evers in 2019.
The Joint Committee on Finance voted along party lines to approve $102 million in funding for facilities to be built in and run by Brown, Dane, Milwaukee and Racine counties, an increase from $80 million allocated in the state budget. Democrats sought $73.2 million to construct two state-run facilities in Milwaukee and Outagamie counties, but Republicans on the committee rejected the requests.
Department of Corrections (DOC) Secretary Kevin Carr said the decision will make it “very unlikely” that Lincoln Hills/Copper Lake will be shut down by next summer’s deadline.
The DOC had sought $111 million in funding for the county-run centers. Milwaukee County’s funding was ultimately cut by $8.4 million, money which would have been used to add 24 beds in a leased space component. Brown, Dane and Racine county facilities will receive full funding.
The state Building Commission must give its approval of the funding before it is released to the counties.
Roughly 100 Lincoln Hills inmates will relocate to county facilities, and approximately 60 others will remain at the Irma facility, according to Sarah Wynn, fiscal analyst with the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.