By Rep. Michael Schraa
Wisconsin needs to close and replace the Lincoln Hills juvenile prison, and we need to do it now. Unfortunately, the bipartisan bill has turned partisan, and some lawmakers want to undermine progress for a press release.
As soon as Governor Scott Walker announced his plans to close Lincoln Hills, my colleagues and I rolled up our sleeves and developed a workable solution for incarcerated youth in Wisconsin. Legislators from both parties and both houses were at the table from the very beginning. Governor Walker also provided recommendations, which were included. After six intense weeks of discussions and negotiations, we developed a transformative proposal, the Wisconsin Model.
This Wisconsin Model embodied the conservative values of public safety, family involvement, and building successful futures. It replaces Lincoln Hills with smaller, closer-to-home facilities. The most serious offenders would remain under the Department of Corrections, but most of the youth would be placed in Secure Residential Care Centers for Children and Youth under county human services departments.
This bipartisan and innovative model made so much sense that the Assembly approved it unanimously. Unfortunately, the Senate committee decided to ignore the bipartisan process that included a voice from every caucus. In less than a week, it rewrote the bill and approved an amended version of the bill, a mere skeleton of the carefully crafted original bill.
What’s wrong with the amendment? Plenty. It closes Lincoln Hills, but doesn’t provide anywhere for those students to go, doesn’t allow the buildings to be repurposed, and doesn’t offer anything to employees who will lose their jobs. All of the plans for new state and county facilities and programs are gutted. Instead, it provides no direction and leaves it up to a future committee to come up with a plan.
Make no mistake. Closing Lincoln Hills without the rest of the bill is recklessly irresponsible. These youth won’t disappear; they have to go somewhere, and there has to be time to build a place for them.
The only concrete reason for the massive overhaul of the bill was an excuse. Media reports said the Senate thought the right people weren’t in the room. But the people involved were exactly the right people: Republicans and Democrats, representatives and senators, bill authors and committee chairs, stakeholders and agency staff. However, the amendment that the Senate is demanding that the Assembly approve included only one of these many participants.
The bottom line is that the governor and the people of Wisconsin want Lincoln Hills closed, but we want it done right. The Assembly was able to put aside political differences for the good of the troubled youth of the state. We call on the Senate to do the same.