In Support of Assembly Bill 791

By: Anthony Scardina, NAMI Dane County Intern   

In recent weeks, two proposals regarding the closure of Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake correctional facilities have been introduced in the state legislature. The two separate proposals come from Gov. Walker and Democratic State Rep. Evan Goyke. 

Gov. Walker's $80 million proposal calls for the closing of Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake juvenile correctional facilities. It also calls for the creation of five new regional facilities for justice-involved juveniles. Out of the five new facilities, three would be located in southeastern Wisconsin. Each facility would have anywhere between 32-36 beds. By decreasing the number of juveniles housed in any singular location, the proposal would enable more staff to client interaction.

Walker's proposal also places the primary focus on mental health diagnoses and trauma informed care, including expansion of the Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center. Currently, the center only treats juvenile males but under Walker’s proposal, new beds would be created at MJTC in order to treat female juveniles with mental illness. They would also add more beds to be able to treat juvenile males.

Shortly after Gov. Walker introduced his bill, State Rep. Goyke introduced his own. Goyke's bill (Assembly Bill 791) is very similar to Walker’s proposal, however, there are a few key differences. First, Rep. Goyke's bill uses a risk-based model for treating juveniles with mental illness as opposed to a trauma informed care model. Second, instead of closing Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake, the bill would convert them into adult facilities. And finally, Goyke’s proposal does not require any new facilities to be built, whereas Gov. Walker's bill does.

We are encouraged by Gov. Walker’s decision to make positive changes that improve the lives of justice-involved youth with mental illness. However, there are concerns with his proposed plan, particularly around funding. His plan costs $80 million, to be included in the 2019-2021 budget from the Department of Corrections and the Department of Human Services. Our concern is that funding for existing mental health services might be cut in order to pay for the construction of new facilities. We are also concerned at how quickly the proposal is moving through the legislature and the fact that no public hearing is planned at this stage.

Because Goyke's proposal converts Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake into adult facilities, requires less funding compared to Walker's proposal, and calls for a public hearing, NAMI Dane County is supporting Assembly Bill 791 over Walker's proposal. It is important the community's voice be heard.

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