The state Assembly has passed legislation that would overhaul the state’s juvenile corrections system.
The bill approved unanimously on Wednesday would close the state’s troubled Lincoln Hills youth prison by 2021, moving offenders to new state or county-run facilities. If signed by the governor, Democratic state Representative David Bowen (D-Milwaukee) said will make the first major changes to the system in 22 years. “I think that we have a chance to really set a new course for the state of Wisconsin on how we get young people back on the right track, to be able to be contributing members of our communities,” he said during debate on the Assembly floor Wednesday.
The push to change how juvenile corrections operates comes after years of reports about abuse at Lincoln Hills, and concerns about the safety of inmates and staff. While Governor Scott Walker initially said he was confident in how the facility was operating, he began calling earlier this year for lawmakers to begin the process of reforming the system before the current session ends for the year.
The bill now heads to the Senate, where Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) has raised doubts about it passing before the session ends. Based on changes made to the proposal and approved by the Assembly though, Senate Republican Van Wanggaard (R-Racine) said Wednesday he’s optimistic about it receiving a vote when the chamber meets next month.
“We have to change what we’re doing…we can’t continue to just house juveniles and have the recidivism rate as high as it is,” he told reporters. “I think this will help us get to that point.”