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Evers Calls On GOP-Controlled Legislature To Pass Juvenile Justice Reforms

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Marti Mikkelson
/
WUWM
Gov. Tony Evers talks about juvenile justice reform outside the Running Rebels Community Organization office on April 13, 2021.

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers was in Milwaukee Tuesday, touting juvenile justice reforms in his budget proposal.

At the epicenter of the youth package is an item that would close the troubled Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake juvenile facilities in northern Wisconsin. Allegations of abuse between guards and inmates came to a head a few years ago when the federal government launched an investigation, and the ACLU sued the state over conditions at the centers. The Republican-controlled state Legislature eventually passed a law requiring the shuttering of the facilities, but the closure has been delayed.

At a news conference Tuesday outside Milwaukee’s Running Rebels youth organization, Evers said his budget calls for closing the buildings in the next year or two and bringing the young inmates closer to home.

“We’re going to do it by creating smaller community-based facilities across our state and make sure that our kids get the same treatment and support no matter where they live in the state of Wisconsin,” Evers said.

Evers’ budget also spends $1 million on an overhaul of juvenile justice staff training. Another key component is the elimination of a law that automatically waives 17 year olds into adult court.

Erica Nelson, of the advocacy group Kids Forward, supports getting rid of that policy. “The proposal to raise the age for all youth from 17 to 18 is imperative, if we are going to apply what we know about youth development. We are one of three states in the nation that has yet to make this change. It is way past due,” Nelson said.

Gov. Evers called on the Legislature to pass these reforms in his budget. The Joint Committee on Finance is holding public hearings this month. Then, it will spend weeks making changes to the plan. Republican committee co-chair Mark Born has said many of the juvenile justice reforms proposed in the budget are policy items and will likely be removed. Those items could then be introduced as standalone legislation.

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