Milwaukee bipartisan bill to build juvenile prison

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A new juvenile prison would be built near Milwaukee under a bipartisan bill that would authorize borrowing $42 million for the project.

The measure comes after years of delays in closing the embattled Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake juvenile prisons north of Wausau in Irma. The state missed a July deadline last year to close the juvenile prisons, which have been the target of numerous lawsuits alleging abuse by guards, multimillion-dollar settlements and criminal investigations.

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Even if the bill wins approval, the Wisconsin State Journal reports Tuesday that it could be years before the facility is constructed. The juvenile prisons are expected to be converted to minimum-security adult prisons.

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Nearly four years ago, then-Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill authorizing the closure of Lincoln Hills by January 2021, replacing it with smaller, regional facilities. Money has been made available for counties to build youth corrections facilities and lawmakers approved funding to expand the juvenile mental health treatment center in Madison.

But finding the funding and location for a new prison for more serious juvenile offenders has stalled.

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Gov. Tony Evers’ spokeswoman Britt Cudaback said it’s great that the issue is moving forward in the Legislature, but it’s unfortunate it has taken this long.

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