I guess I should be jumping for joy, but I am not. My feet are firmly planted in my frustration at the announcement of Governor Scott Walker that he may finally do something about Lincoln Hills Juvenile Correctional facility. It’s only taken about 6 years since a judge reached out to the Governor’s office regarding concerns at the institution. It’s only required confirmation of reports of inmate abuse, staff endangerment and an FBI investigation. It only comes after a court-ordered plan of action to reduce excessive use of pepper spray and solitary confinement against juveniles in placement.
Yet, there are those extolling Walker’s virtues for finally indicating that he is ready to close the troubled Lincoln Hills facility in, wait for it, 2019 or later. The decision, which the Governor claims he had been working on for a year, comes just days after Walker’s former Corrections Secretary Ed Wall stated that the investigation into the juvenile facility had been “completely botched” and “shuffled off” by the governor’s administration.
Our youth endured years of neglect under Walker’s lack of leadership on this issue. He consistently ignored the many legislative proposals that I introduced to bring relief to juveniles and correctional officers. With great indifference, Walker discussed never visiting a single correctional or juvenile facility in his entire tenure as Governor. Conveniently though, just in time for another re-election bid, Governor Walker is now ready to do something. It’s clear where his priorities are, and that these juveniles are being used as political bait in his plan to win reelection.
Over the years, I have advocated for juvenile corrections reform, accountability, and expanded access for the family and community members of juveniles held at Lincoln Hills. I am proud of the work my office has done to organize community-based visits at the institution. These visits provided families and area leaders an ability to make the 3-hour one-way journey to see their children, programming for youth at the facility, and educational opportunities including the Black History Legacy Tour in February 2016. Like so many of my colleagues, I have supported and called for repeated legislative proposals including: a juvenile solitary confinement ban, transfer of juvenile corrections to the Department of Children and Families, authority for Milwaukee County to have their own juvenile hybrid facility, and proper distribution of medication to juveniles – which was approved during the 2017 biannual state budget – and many other plans that focus on regionalized corrections models, best practices, and trauma-informed care.
Further, I have called for two special legislative sessions to address Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake. The Governor did not act on those requests but found time to hold special sessions on Foxconn and the opioid crisis. Growing weary of his indifference, Rep. Chris Taylor and I later introduced legislation to close Lincoln Hills and Cooper Lake within one year of the bill’s signing, if passed. These youth cannot wait another 2 years for real reform. It’s simply shameful.