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Lincoln Hills Senate bills

The entrance to the Lincoln Hills youth prison in Irma is pictured. 

The state Senate has passed a bill package toughening criminal penalties, including one permitting inmates to be held for longer durations at the state's troubled youth prison.

Another would require the state Department of Corrections to recommend revocation of probation, parole or extended supervision for anyone charged with another crime, such as a felony or violent misdemeanor, while under state supervision.

The Senate passed those two bills Tuesday on largely party-line votes. They were part of a five-bill package sponsored by Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Brookfield, all of which were passed.

Vukmir said the bills would make the state safer by getting more violent criminals off the streets.

Democratic senators objected to the bill on principle and for cost reasons. An original estimate by the Corrections Department found it would cost the state an additional $150 million a year to lock up more inmates.

The scaled-back version of the bill that passed the Senate Tuesday would cost about $57 million a year, according to a Corrections Department estimate.

Vukmir dismissed the cost estimates as "purely guesswork." 

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, speaking before Tuesday's Assembly session, said he planned to seek an outside estimate of the bill's cost.

Democrats characterized the bill as resembling tough-on-crime measures enacted in the 1990s. Some of  those measures since have since been reconsidered by members of both parties due to their hefty pricetags and impact on poor communities.

“it seems like (the bill) was written in a different era," said Sen. Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee. "The rest of the country is figuring this out. Why can’t we?”

The bill affecting juvenile offenders would remove a three-year limit on how long a youth inmate may be placed in a juvenile correctional institution such as Lincoln Hills, the state's youth prison for boys, or Copper Lake, its counterpart for girls. Both are located in Irma.


Mark Sommerhauser covers state government and politics for the Wisconsin State Journal.