Lincoln Hills

Democratic lawmakers on the state's budget-writing committee are asking Department of Corrections secretary Jon Litscher to request funds be released to pay for changes to operations at the state's youth prison approved by the committee. The approved funds cannot be accessed yet because a new state budget that was due July 1 has not been passed by lawmakers. 

WISCONSIN DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS

With a state budget more than two weeks late and no deal in sight, Democratic lawmakers are urging prison officials to seek new money to make changes at the state’s youth prison now instead of waiting for a budget agreement.

The four Democrats on the Legislature’s budget-writing committee sent a letter Monday to Department of Corrections Secretary Jon Litscher asking him to request money that has already been recommended by the committee to be included in the 2017-19 state budget.

The funds would be used to address changes to operations and staffing at the Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls, which is the subject of four federal lawsuits and a two-year investigation over abuse allegations.

“The Legislature has failed to meet the July 1 budget deadline, and because of that, positions are not posted, policies are not changed, and program expansions are stalled,” the letter said. “While Governor Walker and Legislative Republicans work to resolve their budget impasse, we are asking you to seek remedy outside of the budget process for the juvenile corrections policies contained in the budget.”

The letter was signed by Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, Rep. Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point, and Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, who sit on the Joint Finance Committee.

A DOC spokesman did not respond to questions about the letter.

The committee in June agreed to require all state inmates under the age of 18 be held in the state’s youth prison in Irma, increase rates counties pay to the state to keep juvenile offenders in the youth prison, increase staffing to comply with the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act, address mental health concerns and hire more health care staff to distribute medication.

While the budget-writing committee has approved the measures, the full budget has not been written and still needs to be passed and signed.

Republican leaders of both houses and Walker have been at odds over how to address a nearly $1 billion gap in the state’s transportation budget, causing the impasse.

While the Joint Finance Committee has not yet met to address schools or taxes, along with transportation, there are no future meetings scheduled.

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Molly Beck covers politics and state government for the Wisconsin State Journal.