By State Representative, Leon D. Young
Why hasn’t Scott Walker ever taken the time to visit the trouble plagued juvenile institutions (Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake) during his nearly eight years in office? Equally egregious is the fact that Walker has said he won’t go there before his second term ends in 12 months.
In truth, the crisis at these beleaguered juvenile facilities is far from being a new development for the state. By way of background, in 2010, Gov. Jim Doyle formed a task force to figure out what to do about the three secured juvenile facilities and concluded one facility should close. However, Doyle’s task force made the point of noting if a facility was to be closed, there should be a careful planning for the transition.
But that was not to be the case. When Walker took office in January 2011, he moved quickly to close Ethan Allen and Southern Oaks. Granted, the consolidation saved the state $25 million a year but, in hindsight, has created a myriad of problems as well as numerous incidents of unprecedented abuse.
Lincoln Hills generally holds inmates as young as 13 and as old as 25, separated by treatment and education needs. Most inmates are in their mid to late teens; some adults are being held for crimes they committed as juveniles. Most of the inmates are African American and come from Milwaukee – 215 miles and 3.5 hours away. The staff is largely white and from the rural north.
For years, officials knew or should have known about the litany of problems at Lincoln Hills and its sister facility on the same campus, Copper Lake School for Girls. At yet, nothing substantial was done. This, in turn, prompted allegations of prisoner abuse, child neglect, sexual assault, intimidation of witnesses and victims, strangulation and tampering with public records.
In fact, conditions at the juvenile facility had become so dire that state agents raided the institution, and eventually sparked an FBI investigation and intensified concerns about the state’s justice system for juveniles who commit serious crimes.
Now six years after his office was first notified by a judge of problems at the facility, three years after a sweeping criminal investigation of the prison began, six months after a federal judge put restrictions on how it operates and less than a month after federal prosecutors notified two former guards they could be charged with crimes, Scott Walker finally wants to close the troubled teen prison. But, the obvious question persists: why now?
Make no mistake about it, 2018 is an election year for the governor and his sudden decision to “reform” the juvenile prison system is clearly part and parcel of his re-election calculus. After years of inaction, bordering on criminal neglect, Walker is offering this last-minute promise to hide his failed leadership on Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake. Walker’s dilatory response to date is a complete outrage, and his recent change of heart should be seen for exactly what it is … a re-election ploy.