Following the latest wave of concerns about inmate and staff safety at two of the state’s juvenile corrections facilities, Democrats are pushing to close the institutions.
A bill introduced this week by state Senator Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) and Representative Chris Taylor (D-Madison) would force the Department of Corrections to close the Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake youth prisons within one year. “We have to do something, we can’t just stand by and act as if we don’t see the inhumane treatment of these juveniles,” argues Senator Taylor.
The facilities have been the focus of intense scrutiny for more than two years, with conditions prompting a federal investigation and a wave of staff departures. The Department of Corrections has said staff shortages continue to be an issue, while a federal judge earlier this year ordered the state to reduce the use of pepper spray, restraints, and solitary confinement to control the youth population.
Taylor argues it’s clear the current model of youth corrections is not working, and the state should focus instead on options that keep young offenders near their home counties. Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake are located in Lincoln County – about 30 miles north of Wausau.
DOC Secretary John Litscher has insisted the facilities are safe, and that the agency is working to address staff shortages. Governor Scott Walker on Tuesday also sent a letter to the secretary asking him to hire an interim superintendent of the facilities, who will work on-site and ensure court ordered protections are being followed.