State Representative Evan Goyke says he will introduce legislation to shut down Lincoln Hills School, the juvenile correctional facility beleaguered by allegations of abuse.

In an interview with Madison365, Goyke said that all juveniles need to be removed from Lincoln Hills and that the facility needs to be repurposed to house adult offenders in need of alcohol and drug treatment.

Goyke, who is in his third term in the State Assembly, represents the north and west sides of Milwaukee. He wrote a publication that he shared with other legislators from both sides of the aisle last week and plans on introducing a plan formally by the end of this week.

State Rep. Evan Goyke

The plan would seek to reduce overcrowding in the adult prison system while simultaneously reforming the current system of juvenile corrections. A recent report showed that 447 adult state prisoners are currently being housed in county jail beds because there is no room for them in state prisons.

The Department of Corrections has 500 contract beds available in county jails throughout the state, meaning there is only space for 53 more inmates to be housed in county jails. In the 1990’s and early parts of 2001-2001, inmates were sent out of state to places like Tennessee because the limit of beds in state prisons and county jails was exceeded and Wisconsin had contracts with privatized prisons. Goyke fears the same tactic could be used again. 

“Our adult facilities are over capacity,” Goyke told Madison365. “That overcapacity is making us pay money to have county jails house the overflow. It is costing us $23,000 a day to house them. The state has budgeted $8.6 million in 2018 for these payments. I’m trying to advance an economic argument for repurposing Lincoln Hills rather than just an argument for dealing with the conduct there.”

Governor Scott Walker has steadfastly refused to address the prison overcrowding for years and has, in fact, accelerated the overcrowding by massively gutting the parole commission. Most of the adult offenders incarcerated in the Wisconsin prison system are there for either non-violent offenses, addiction related offenses or as the result of mental health issues. Repurposing a facility like Lincoln Hills to offer treatment to the inmates dealing with addiction issues could signal a shift away from the concept of mass warehousing and huge institutions that the state has used as a model for decades.

As for the juveniles at Lincoln Hills, Goyke says it’s time to completely restructure the juvenile corrections model.

In the adult system, there are minimum, medium, maximum and supermax designations for adult offenders. Most inmates with long sentences begin their prison sentence in a max institution like Green Bay, Waupun or Columbia, or in a medium security facility like Oshkosh or Racine Correctional. As their time sentence, behavior or treatment needs dictate, some then go to minimum security facilities like Oak Hill or Thompson.

Adults can be moved from one facility to another based on need at any time. If an offender assaults someone or has a major conduct issue at, say, a minimum security facility they can be moved to a maximum security facility. If an inmate in a maximum security facility has a treatment need or has excellent conduct, they can be moved to a minimum security facility.

This structure allows institutions to control the types of offenders housed at each facility. This structure does not exist in the juvenile correctional system in the same fashion.

Goyke says it should.

“The Bill I’m trying to rally behind would terminate Lincoln Hills as the only facility for juveniles in the State,” he says. “It would direct the Department of Corrections to create a network of risk-based and regional facilities for juveniles.”

The facilities would be designated based on risk level like the ones in the adult prison system but have a cap on the number of kids who could be housed at each place. The high-risk facilities would have 24 kids and the low risk would have around 36 kids, with a proper ratio of staff.

This structure would reduce the level of stress on kids who are low risk or have different issues than kids who are assaultive and violent. Currently, all the kids are together at one facility where older kids with violent issues have assaulted younger, more vulnerable kids who often have different issues and potentially shouldn’t even be housed with them.

“We want to use risk factors to mirror what we have in the adult system,” Goyke says. “An inmate in the adult system can go from a low-risk facility to a medium or high-risk facility and vice versa. But by only having one juvenile facility, we can’t move people from one facility to another. So if a juvenile inmate is assaulted, there would be a way to move them.”

The population of Lincoln Hills has been declining in the past three years. Part of that is due to the FBI needing to investigate instances of assault and abuse at the facility. Juvenile prosecutors and judges have also been slower to send kids there based on some of the allegations, stories and reports that have been generated from the facility.

But with the decline in inmate population there has come a hefty financial price tag for taxpayers. Lincoln Hills is funded with program revenue. There’s a dollar amount for each juvenile housed there per day. Each juvenile costs $293 per day, which is paid for by the county the child comes from.

Since the population of the facility is declining, the revenue Lincoln Hills is able to make has declined. As a result, the State Legislature increased the amount of money it costs to house juveniles in order to generate more revenue.

That increase made county’s want to explore less expensive alternatives to incarceration for juveniles which has been a factor in the declining numbers of kids there.

“Look at it this way: The more expensive it gets to house kids there, the fewer kids are being sent there. As fewer kids are sent there, it gets more expensive to send a kid there,” Goyke explains. “This calls into question the sustainability of juvenile corrections. If the cost is going up, we need to have a public debate on what our return on the investment really is. Does it make sense to just develop a new system of juvenile corrections?”

It is a debate Goyke fully plans on having when he introduces his Bill at the end of this week or early next week.