And why? Because no one knows exactly where these new facilities will be, or when the inmates would be moved. And both the northwest side of Milwaukee and the Outagamie Town of Hortonia aren’t happy with the idea of the most serious juvenile offenders being sent to their communities
Neither community selected for the new state-run facilities is happy about the idea of having a prison nearby, but in Hortonia the opposition includes prominent Republican lawmakers who have great influence in the Legislature including the Senate President Roger Roth and Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke.In addition, both the GOP-run Assembly and Senate agreed to push back the closing of Lincoln Hills as a juvy facility to July 2021 in the last two weeks, which would puts that move into the next state budget.
"We would advocate that the Administration justify their determination of the location of this facility," Roth, Steineke and five other lawmakers wrote to the Legislature's finance committee leaders in April asking them to delay approving funding to build the new state-run youth prisons.
The committee agreed and on Tuesday voted to wipe out millions in funding proposed by Evers for the Hortonia and Milwaukee facilities and instead made it available to county governments to start work on their facilities.
That's not quite what was expected when $25 million was set aside for the new facilities in 2018. At that time, the Legislature and Governor Walker rushed to side with a plan by State Rep Evan Goyke to set a January 2021 deadline to close Lincoln Hills, and have lesser offenders placed in smaller, regional facilities.
And like most things in WalkerWorld, the thought behind this sudden change in juvenile corrections policy was for short-term politics and not any kind of thought-out plan. As a result, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel mentioned a couple of weeks ago that the new Governor and other state officials are struggling with how to actually implement this plan, and how not to make sure the awfulness of Lincoln Hills repeats.
"It was absolutely rushed from the beginning, so we're buying more time to make sure the right things happen for young people," Sharlen Moore, director of Youth Justice Milwaukee, said. "We don't want to create one traumatic place for young people and just transplant it to another traumatic place."Now the election has come and Walker has gone, but the issue on what to do with these youth offenders still exists, and more money needs to be found to pay for whatever action is chosen. So the GOP Legislature voted to move $40 million to local communities for their juvenile facilities, and took it away from other state facilities.
Kenneth Streit, a University of Wisconsin Law School professor who specializes in juvenile justice policies and has represented juvenile offenders, said the bill passed in 2018 "budgeted an unrealistically low number -- but one that both parties could live with."
"Closing a correctional facility needs bi-partisanship. The crisis at Irma provided the critical moment that otherwise would never have come," Streit said. "I think (Walker) didn't want anything to do with it and wanted it to be 'done' so as to take it away as an election issue.”
Last year, lawmakers approved borrowing $80 million to replace Lincoln Hills. Under that measure, $15 million was to go to expanding the Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center, $25 million was to go to new state-run facilities and $40 million was to go to new county-run facilities.We'll see if Evers goes along with that adjustment, or moves that $40 million back with his line-item veto pen. Seems like it could go a lot of ways there.
The committee on Tuesday doubled the amount the counties would get to $80 million, provided additional funding for Mendota but eliminated the funding for the new state-run facilities. It was unclear where GOP lawmakers wanted to house juvenile inmates without the new lockups, given that Lincoln Hills is to close in 2021.
On the adult side, it's also noteworthy that $15 million that was proposed for add-ons to the men’s prison at Black River Falls and the women’s prison at Taycheedah women’s prison were both rejected by the Joint Finance Committee, but they did find $5 million to get things going with another correctional facility. So in addition to the juvenile facilities, there are going to be more costs that are needed to handle our still-large inmate population for the state. And more of that also needs to be figured out in the near future.
Maybe at some point we can try to head off the causes and punishments that lead to these spiraling expenses that lead to the need for all of these new prisons. Maybe…
In the meantime, state officials and legislators have to deal with the fallout of 8 years of negligence that happened under the last governor, and modify the previous laws and funding to deal with the reality that Scott Walker tried to avoid before the November 2018 elections. Happens a lot with that guy, doesn't it?