Wisconsin’s plans to overhaul its juvenile justice system by building new lockups closer to juvenile offenders’ families and communities suffered a new blow this week when the state’s two largest counties declined millions of dollars in state funds for construction.
Building locally run facilities in partnership with the state is a key component of Wisconsin’s Act 185, which passed in former Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s final weeks in office before Democratic challenger Tony Evers was elected governor in 2018.
Although lawmakers offered up money for four new local facilities, Milwaukee and Dane counties told the state Department of Corrections that the money awarded won’t cover enough of the cost. Given the hole the coronavirus has blown in government budgets, they said, this is no time to take on the additional expense.
The counties also said the expected timeline for completion, although extended, remained unrealistic, according to WisPolitics’ Capitol Report, which first reported the development.
Under Act 185, two new lockups for juveniles convicted of serious offenses would replace the troubled Lincoln Hills & Copper Lake schools in remote northern Wisconsin, and the Mendota Mental Health Institute in Dane County would be remodeled.
However, lawmakers have committed no money for those state facilities, nor for the third component of the law: creating a “continuum of care” for youthful offenders in hopes of reducing recidivism and boosting their chances of growing into successful adults.
Carmen Daughtery, policy director for Youth First initiative, said in an email to The Imprint that “Act 185 has been flawed from the start,” adding that it was “a good step for these two counties to reject dollars tied to building prisons and instead, focus their energies on doing what’s best for youth who come into contact with the law.”
In an email to WisPolitics, Jared Hoy, assistant deputy secretary of the Department of Corrections, said the department remains “committed to implementing the steps established in Act 185” and to its “spirit,” despite the big counties’ rejection of the state dollars.
While declining the construction funds, both counties said they wish to continue working with the state on juvenile justice reform.