A Democratic state lawmaker is questioning why lawmakers should wait until after the next state budget is taken up to act on protecting inmates at Lincoln Hills.
State Representative Evan Goyke (D-Milwaukee) introduced a bill in November that largely mirrors the plan outlined by Governor Scott Walker’s administration Thursday. It calls for closing the Lincoln Hills and Copper Lakes youth prisons and relocating inmates to five smaller regional facilities, which would have to be built. Lincoln Hills would then reopen as an adult prison.
The Milwaukee Democrat says he’s thrilled to see support for his plan from Republicans. However, he is worried about waiting until 2019 to make many of the changes, as the governor has currently proposed. “I don’t want to wait for the next governor,” he argues. “I don’t think we should put this issue at the feet of the next governor.”
Goyke thinks his bill should receive a hearing this session, before lawmakers head home for the year this spring, and he plans to ask GOP leadership to schedule one as soon as possible. “It’s out there. It has been introduced and it is remarkably similar, so let’s move forward,” he says, adding that he can think of no better endorsement for Republicans than having the governor on board.
Walker faces reelection this year, which has prompted some Democratic criticism that the decision to act on complaints about safety at Lincoln Hills that have persisted for more than two years is motivated by politics. Goyke says he’s not sure what has prompted the Walker administration to take up the issue now, but he believes it’s at least partially due to his plan including a way to re-purpose Lincoln Hills to address bed shortages in the adult prison population.
Litscher defends delay
Department of Corrections Secretary John Litscher says one reason for waiting until 2019 is that it will take time to plan out where young offenders will be housed in the future. “That planning has to be a process,” he says. “It has to be done both judiciously and consciously, and with a degree of knowledge of where the best sites to serve these youth are.”
While Democrats have argued the delay could put offenders at the youth prisons at continued risk, due to concerns about staff shortages and living conditions, Litscher says those issues are not being ignored just because there’s a plan for the future. “We’ll continue to improve both the program and the treatment…and continue our planning to develop our regional models, regional centers,” he says.