Walker Says He'll Shutter Embattled Juvenile Prisons in Northern Wisconsin

Jan 4, 2018

The state of Wisconsin is changing the way it handles some of its worst juvenile offenders. On Thursday, Gov. Walker unveiled plans to close the Lincoln Hills School for Boys and the Copper Lake School for Girls in Irma, and instead, create five smaller regional facilities scattered across the state.

Many prisoners hail from Milwaukee and the centers have been plagued by reports of abuse of inmates and correctional officers.  Advocates who have been pushing Walker to make such a move, say it's a step in the right direction, but there’s still more work to be done.

For years, Democrats have been calling for Gov. Walker to not only close the two prisons, but create smaller regional facilities closer to family and support systems.

On Thursday, Gov. Walker announced that beginning in 2019, the state would begin to move in that direction. Under the new plan, each new facility would house between 32 and 36 teens. While smaller than the hundreds that the facilities can now hold, Jeffery Roman says the plans would still house too many youth in one facility. Roman is an organizer with Youth Justice Milwaukee. It’s been campaigning to close the juvenile facilities for the past two years. Roman says they’d like to see facilities that house no more than 20 people.

“We hope that they continue to listen to the community, engage the community who are saying that the smaller number is much better in that as they go through their planning process they realize that would be more effective. We don’t want to say that we don’t agree with what he’s doing, but we want to make sure that the families and the young people and the people with the research who know with evidence are at those stables so that those considerations are being made,” Roman says.

But smaller facilities by themselves don’t necessarily equate to better, according to Larry Dupuis.

He’s legal director for the ACLU of Wisconsin and says other changes have to be made.

“I think the key things that need to happen are a shift in culture and an infusion of resources that looks at juvenile corrections as something different from adult corrections. The whole punitive model doesn’t work very well with adults but it works even more poorly with children,” Dupuis says.

Dupuis says that the ACLU of Wisconsin will continue to monitor what’s happening with youth at the two facilities both now and once the transition has been made.