Graham Kilmer

Evers Signs Legislation Funding Lincoln Hills Replacement

New state-run facility is first step in neglected juvenile corrections reform.

By - Apr 8th, 2022 05:17 pm
Lincoln Hills School and Copper Lake School. Photo from the Wisconsin Department of Corrections.

Lincoln Hills School and Copper Lake School. Photo from the Wisconsin Department of Corrections.

Governor Tony Evers signed legislation Friday that allocates funds for a future replacement for the Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake juvenile correctional facilities.

The legislation, which cleared the state Legislature in March, provides approximately $41.7 million to develop a new Type 1 juvenile correctional facility. According to the state Department of Corrections, this type of state facility is one that uses physical security measures to “restrict the liberty of a youth committed to the facility.”  Such a facility would be used to incarcerate youth that have committed serious felonies and which the court believes need a more secure environment.

A new Type 1 facility was a requisite for closing Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake, which is required by state law following the passage of 2017 Wisconsin Act 185. The current plan is to develop the facility in or near Milwaukee.

After signing the legislation, the governor released a statement saying, “For years, legislators have been talking about closing Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake as a juvenile facility while simultaneously delaying and obstructing plans to do so,” said Gov. Evers. “I am glad to be finally signing this bill today that will ensure we can move our kids out of Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake safely and responsibly by providing the funding needed to move forward on a Type 1 facility in Milwaukee County.”

Act 185 was an attempt by the state to reform youth corrections after allegations of abuse and mistreatment at the state run youth facilities led to an investigation by the FBI. It set a deadline to close the facilities, which was never met, even after an extension was approved. Importantly, it also laid out a framework for developing a handful of small juvenile correction facilities that would be owned and operated by county governments.

Milwaukee County was one of the governments that was supposed to develop one of these facilities, called Secure Residential Care Centers for Children and Youth  (SRCCCY). But a state committee slashed Milwaukee’s proposed budget for the new center, and state lawmakers never approved a long term funding commitment to operate the new facilities. In response, County Executive David Crowley deferred acceptance of the funds.

The failure to properly fund policy commitments laid out in state legislation has left youth corrections unchanged at the state level. It has also hampered efforts by Milwaukee County to reform its own juvenile correction practices.

The county is facing overcrowding at the Vel R. Phillips Juvenile Justice Center, and the number of youth being sent to state facilities is increasing. This is despite some courts interpreting Act 185 as removing the legal authority for judges to commit children to Lincoln Hills or Copper Lake. In other words, it may be against state law to send children there.

The state Department of Corrections and the courts have gotten around this with a legal sidestep that sees a motion filed for a “change of placement” with a DOC policy not to object to such motions unless there are “extraordinary circumstances,” according to a DOC memo.

Allocating funding for the new state-run facility is the first step in realizing the goals of Act 185, which were supposed to have been accomplished by now.

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