Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Oh, so NOW Scotty wants to speed up at Lincoln Hills...kinda

2 weeks after our Fair Governor said that he’d wait until 2019 to do anything to close the troubled youth prison at Lincoln Hills (if the voters of this state are stupid enough to keep him around), he changed his mind over the weekend. Now Scotty wants to see something done about it in this legislative session, which would likely mean some time over the next 2 months.

But if you read the statement from Walker that came out this morning, there’s a lot more space dedicated to discussion about prior moves in the current and past budgets (to cover his ass), but not a lot in there about future actions that he wants. Well, except for speeding up the bidding process to build new facilities, with plans for a design firm to be selected next month (cha-CHING!).

The details on how to treat the underage inmates and finding the money to build the prisons are being left for the State Legislature to figure out. Bad enough, but in Molly Beck’s article in today’s Wisconsin State Journal, the Republicans running the Legislature indicate they may use the Lincoln Hills situation to make a significant change in how youth corrections are handled.
Assembly Corrections Committee chairman Michael Schraa, R-Oshkosh, said the legislation he is drafting with Assembly Speaker Robin Vos would likely allow county governments to have a say in the type of juvenile correctional facility built in their areas.

“I think the goal is to really have DOC out of it, and whether that’s having (the Department of Children and Families) overseeing the program or what ... just so there is uniformity with regard to programming, but really handing it off to the counties,” Schraa said. He said the legislation wouldn’t preclude the state from building the facilities Walker has proposed.

“I think that would definitely be an outcome that could happen — (have the state) spend money up front to build and then let the counties do their thing,” he said,
adding he is seeking support from Democrats and that Assembly Republicans may discuss the proposal Tuesday. A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald did not respond to a request for comment on Walker’s effort or the Assembly Republican proposal
It seems a bit alarming that later in Beck’s story, a lobbyist for the Wisconsin Counties Association has said they have not been told of the Assembly GOP’s plan, especially if they might be running these youth facilities and possibly have to deal with funding operations in a time when many counties are struggling just to keep their roads fixed.

Dems in the Legislature are also apparently locked out of these discussions, which gives me an excuse to run this excellent cartoon again.

State Dems (and especially Goyke) asked why the GOP was cobbling this bill for youth corrections in secret, when there was already a plan and a bill that had been formally introduced on the subject.
Goyke in an interview said any legislation to overhaul oversight of juvenile corrections should preserve some state oversight to ensure juvenile offenders are placed in the facilities that best address their needs, even if they’re not close to home.

He also called for a hearing on his own bill and suggested plans sought by Assembly Republicans or other lawmakers could be discussed as amendments to his plan.“I’ve introduced a bill, the bill has bipartisan support (and) it mirrors in substantial form the governor’s plan, so let’s have a hearing on it,” Goyke said. “If there’s something that’s disagreeable about that bill, let’s do it through the legislative process rather than turning it into a partisan redraft.”
But Rep. Goyke, that would imply that today’s Wisconsin GOP actually cares about solving problems and coming with up long-term solutions to legitimate issues, instead of playing political games and demanding to control all aspects of the debate. Sorry Evan, that’s not how they roll.

It’s also intriguing to note that at the same time that Walker and the GOP Legislature were panicking due to low poll numbers speeding up the timetable for action at Lincoln Hills and Copper Hills, the Wisconsin Office of Children’s Mental Health was releasing its 2017 annual report to the State Legislature.
There is a lot of data in the Children’s Mental Health report, which looks not only at emotional health, but social conditions and other statistics that may help to identify areas that may require more attention.
One that immediately jumps out was the arrest rate, particularly for younger people, and the number of Wisconsin children with family caregivers behind bars.

Juvenile arrests
US rate 10 per 1,000
Wis rate 32.5 per 1,000

Jailed parent/guardian
US rate 8.2%
Wis rate 9.1%

Interestingly, the report notes that average daily populations at youth correctional facilities are dropping, down from 408 in 2010 to 307 in 2014. This is another part of the concerns at Lincoln Hills, as lower populations make the facility less efficient.

What’s odd is that these higher arrest rates come in the face of lower levels of youth poverty and single-parent households in Wisconsin vs the rest of the nation, which you would think would correlate to higher levels of arrest. So what gives with these conflicting stats?

Perhaps there’s a clue later in the report with this statistic.
Wisconsin ranks 42nd in the nation in youth mental health (Mental Health America) Contributing Factors
• High depression rates
• Low treatment for youth with mental illness
Of note: Wisconsin ranks ranked 11th for adult mental health.
The report also notes that while many of Wisconsin’s children are on public assistance for medical care, mental health doesn’t account for much of their treatment.
9% (54,770) of children on Medicaid (around 600,000 throughout 2015) received Medicaid-funded mental health services (therapy, psychiatric hospitalizations, or other treatments); this represents 4% of the Wisconsin child population.3
•An estimated 21% of Wisconsin’s children have any mental illness. Some children receive mental health services through other public systems or through private insurance (~4% of Wisconsin children),4 but there still remains a treatment gap of about 34% of children.5
One other stat from this report is that rural Wisconsin badly lags urban Wisconsin when it comes to available mental health providers.

Ratio of mental health providers, Wisconsin
Urban 19 providers per 100 residents
Rural 11 providers per 100 residents

This may be why there is a bill that has been introduced in the Legislature that writes off student loans if you take a counseling job in a rural part of Wisconsin. This also seem to illustrate that there are mental health needs with Wisconsin youth that are not being met, and some of those unmet needs are manifesting itself in minor crimes resulting in arrest.

This other note may also explain the “high arrest, low incarceration” situation.
Wisconsin meth arrests, charges, and seizures have tripled since 2011, with greatest increases occurring in rural areas.
So instead of going into WisGOP crisis management mode and coming out with a half-baked plan that’s cooked up in private, why don’t we go more big picture, and discuss how to deal with the root causes of these issues in youth (and adult) Corrections? Sure, we can get Lincoln Hills closed and get the ball rolling on getting new places set up that are closer to many of the youthful offenders’ homes, and perhaps we can recognize that we need better training and pay for our correctional staff, as numerous reports keep going back to the union-busting Act 10 as a main reason for these problems of understaffing and abuse.

But shouldn’t we also talk about the investments we are (or aren’t) making for children’s mental health and home situations, and perhaps realize that this is a topic that won’t go away after any desperate pre-election fix by WisGOP is made to get them through 2018? While partisan GOP hacks think Lincoln Hills and juvenile corrections are a political problem (which is the only reason they really care), it is in fact a societal problem, and it should be approached accordingly.

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