Thursday, January 4, 2018

Scotty panics on Lincoln Hills. But still doesn't want to act

Last weekend, you may recall that former Corrections Secretary Ed Wall was on "Capitol City Sunday" saying that the Walker Administration and Attorney General Brad Schimel were dragging their feet in dealing with the problems at the troubled youth prison at Lincoln Hills.

And sure enough, our Fair Governor must have gotten some awful feedback from that interview and other recent developments, because he hurried out today with a brand new plan for juvenile corrections in the state.
Gov. Scott Walker plans to convert the Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls into a prison for adult inmates -- a move that would close a dark chapter for the youth prison that has been plagued with allegations of inmate abuse and unsafe working conditions for staff for years.

Walker said Thursday he plans to instead build six smaller youth prisons around the state for Wisconsin's most serious juvenile offenders….

If Walker wins re-election, he plans to include in the next state budget at least $80 million for the construction of six new juvenile correctional facilities for up to three dozen inmates each. Lawmakers would need to approve the plan.

Up to three new facilities would be in southeastern Wisconsin near Milwaukee, though the sites have not yet been chosen. One would be built on the campus of the Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center in Madison for female inmates.

While the new facilities wouldn't open until after 2019, Walker plans to move some male inmates from Lincoln Hills to the Mendota campus this fall. In November, Department of Corrections officials indicated a desire to move the most aggressive inmates at the prison as a way to decrease the number of violent incidents at the facility.
Walker’s office claimed he and his staffers had been working on this Lincoln Hills move for a year. However, converting Lincoln Hills into an adult prison and deciding to go to smaller, regional facilities sounds vaguely familiar…

Oh yeah, it’s basically copying the ideas of Dem Rep. Evan Goyke from last month (chronicled in this post). Goyke thanked the governor for finally paying attention to the issue of corrections reform, and said Walker and the WisGOP-controlled Legislature could move ahead tomorrow on those plans, if they wanted to.
“The new policy initiatives unveiled today demonstrate exciting progress in reforming Wisconsin’s corrections systems.

I am proud to have lead the legislature in these efforts. Late last year I authored Assembly Bill 791, which would repurpose Lincoln Hills to an adult facility and a adopt a regionalized risk-based model for juvenile corrections.

It is exciting that these innovative ideas are gaining support, however, the initiatives proposed today do not have to wait for the next Governor. Assembly Bill 791 has been referred to the Assembly Corrections Committee and I call upon my majority party colleagues to hold a public hearing on this bi-partisan bill.
The fact that Walker is trying to pass off any formal action on juvenile corrections for another year-and-a-half (if the voters of this state are stupid enough to allow Scotty to write another budget), is something that caught the eye of many Democrats. Dem Assembly Leader Gordon Hintz was one of many who rightfully connected Walker’s announcement to the gubernatorial election that’s looming in 10 months.
“When the health and well-being of troubled kids and hardworking staff are not enough for Governor Walker to consider doing something, we can always count on political expediency,” said Representative Gordon Hintz. “Only after his former Corrections Secretary Ed Wall blasted Governor Walker for not taking the problems at Lincoln Hills seriously enough, did the Governor become interested. If the crisis at Lincoln Hills were a priority, we could act today. There is absolutely no reason to put this plan in the next budget. Democrats have been calling for urgent action on juvenile corrections reform for years. Representative Evan Goyke has recently proposed reforms with bipartisan support that are shockingly similar to what was proposed today. If the Governor is serious about these efforts, let’s take up those bills this month and pass them.”

“The Governor’s track record is long on promises and short on results. There is a difference between saying you are going to address something and actually doing it. The Governor has said he would “fix” transportation in past budgets as well.”

“The guards and kids at Lincoln Hills don’t have the luxury of making decisions based on political polling. They are facing an impossible situation on a daily basis. The Governor needs to act in their best interests, and not in the best interest of his 2018 campaign.”
On the money, Gordon. I hope no one reading this actually thinks Walker’s quick change of direction on the Lincoln Hills subject is due to anything other than the fact that his polling numbers were clearly going down.

State School Superintendent and Dem candidate for Governor Tony Evers was even more blunt.
“If Scott Walker thinks that his statement today washes away 2,055 days of scandal, mismanagement, and cover-up, he's got another thing coming. How many kids have [been] abused during the 5 years Walker failed to act? How many staff have been harassed and beaten? How many lives have been ruined? Now he wants us to believe the same people who caused the Lincoln Hills mess are going to fix it. We need responsible leaders who are
more focused about solving problems and protecting lives than winning elections.”
It goes back to a statement I made yesterday, while talking about the state being $3 million in the hole on juvenile corrections in the 2017 fiscal year, among other overdrafts.
...if we had a functioning government at the Capitol, this information would lead to action to adequately pay for and cover these expenses. But don't count on that happening with an administration that always chooses to kick issues down the road and ignore the real problems until they become implode and require much more drastic action to fix.
If that doesn’t describe the Lincoln Hills situation and today's announcement to a T.... As a wise man once put it,


Make no mistake, today’s public statement from Scott Walker is a desperate attempt to get people to stop talking about the disaster in Lincoln Hills- a disaster that stems directly from decisions HE and the WisGOP Legislature made. Don’t let the weasel slip by, and ask yourself why we shouldn’t be converting Lincoln Hills and reforming juvenile corrections NOW, instead of blowing it off for another year?

To answer the question reveals Scott Walker's gesture to be the symbolic PR BS. It also shows he isn't serious about solving the real, ongoing problems at Lincoln Hills, and in taking care of this state's increasingly expensive corrections crisis. Let's get someone in the Governor's office who is.

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