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Walker calls for juvenile prison reorganization

Lincoln Hills/Copper Lake School in Lincoln County is seen, Dec. 14, 2017. (WLUK/Mark Leland)

GREEN BAY (WLUK) -- Years of calls to shut down the troubled Lincoln Hills School for Boys in central Wisconsin appear to have been answered.

Governor Scott Walker's $80 million plan would build five smaller teen prisons and turn Lincoln Hills into an adult facility.

“Could it have happened more quickly? I wish it did,” said State Rep. Joel Kleefisch (R-Oconomowoc). “It's happening now and that's a good thing.”

Right now, most of Lincoln Hills' inmates come from the southeastern part of the state. Governor Walker's office says three of the five new teen prisons would likely be in that region. Walker's plan calls for at least one facility to be north of a line between Manitowoc and La Crosse.

“I would hope there was one regional center that could support the Green Bay and Fox Valley courts,” said Hon. William Atkinson, a Brown County Circuit Court Judge.

Atkinson believes Walker's plan will create options.

“There are some individuals that absolutely should be as far away from their families as they can,” said Atkinson. “They probably can do that with this regional setup, because they can now make an informed decision, does this child need to be away from their peer group or does this child need to be near the supportive family?”

Walker's plan is a shift in his approach to years of issues and investigations at Lincoln Hills. The new plan is similar to one that Democrats have been supporting. Many believe, Walker is caving to election year pressure.

“It's just about as transparent as the tape I used to wrap up my kids' Christmas presents a couple weeks ago that now suddenly the governor has had this idea,” said State Sen. Jennifer Shilling (D-La Crosse).

Each regional prison would house between 32 and 36 beds.

Female prisoners would be relocated to Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center in Madison. That facility currently specializes in mental health services, which would be expanded under Walker's plan.

Walker wants the money for the regional teen prisons to be part of the 2019-2021 budget.

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