Governor Scott Walker has changed his mind about when to make changes to the state’s juvenile corrections system.
The governor on Tuesday morning released a statement urging lawmakers to pass legislation this year that would overhaul how young offenders are housed and receive treatment. The move would push up the time table for overhauling the youth corrections system by at least 18 months, after Walker earlier this month proposed making the changes in the state budget that will be taken up in 2019.
Walker wants to close the state’s Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake facilities and open five smaller regional facilities around the state. The youth prison in Irma has been a source of intense controversy, following reports of abuse targeting inmates and complaints about staff safety. Walker’s plan also calls for eventually re-opening the prison as a facility housing adult offenders.
While many Democrats said they were happy to see something being proposed, Walker also faced criticism because his plan would delay changes to the already troubled system for more than a year.
The governor and Department of Corrections initially said acting too soon would be difficult, because of the need to design and build new facilities before young inmates can be relocated. Walker on Tuesday said his administration now plans to put out a call next week for architects and engineers to develop plans for the five new facilities. He hopes to have those firms selected by next month.
It remains unclear whether lawmakers will have time this spring to draft and approve legislation that would make the changes the governor is calling for. The Wisconsin State Journal reported that some Assembly Republicans are working on legislation that would give counties more control over juvenile corrections, but no bill has been introduced yet.