One Milwaukee Democratic lawmaker doesn’t want the state’s Democratic governor to be totally in charge of closing the state’s troubled youth prisons. 

State Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, told lawmakers Wednesday that she wants the state’s budget writing panel, the Joint Finance Commission, to select where Wisconsin will build its new youth correctional centers. 

“I am 100 percent on the ready to do whatever we need to do in order to move this to do the right thing, the humane thing for the young people who are at Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake,” Taylor said during a statehouse hearing. “I don’t want the fix to be included in the budget. Because that gives [Gov. Tony Evers] authority to veto it.”

Lawmakers agreed last year to close Lincoln Hills, a youth prison for young men, and Copper Lake, a youth prison for young women, after a number of complaints from inmates and their families. 

Both prisons were supposed to close by the end of next year. Evers wants another six months to build their replacements. 

One of the replacements for Lincoln Hills is to be built in Outagamie County, in Hortonia. The other is to be built in Taylor’s district in Milwaukee County, close to Glendale. 

But not everyone in Glendale is happy to have a new prison in their backyard. 

“It seems very clear that [Glendale] has not only asked for an environmental study, but that they intend to sue because they were not consulted,” Taylor said. “It is contaminated land. The state doesn’t own the land, we’re talking about buying the land from the city of Milwaukee.”

Taylor said she’s asked for answers from the Evers administration, but has yet to get the answers she wants. 

“I’m throwing it all out there, because I don’t understand why we don’t have a full report on the land that we own,” Taylor said. “I don’t know why if we own land that we can build on, why are we trying to go and buy land from somebody else that’s contaminated with asbestos.”

Taylor says Glendale’s fight could delay the timeline to close Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake. 

Lawmakers in Madison say they think they can build the replacements for the two by the middle of 2021, and close the prisons just like the governor wants. Though lawmakers are trying to be clear that they are not at the governor’s beck and call. 

“I’m not necessarily agreeing to extend the timeline because of the governor’s ask,” state Rep. Michael Schraa, R-Oshkosh, said Wednesday. “I am doing it because of what the counties need.”

Schraa said if counties in Wisconsin aren’t on board, the state won’t be able to reform criminal justice in the state. 

Benjamin Yount reports on Illinois and Wisconsin statewide issues for The Center Square. Reposted with permission.

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