State News

Mayor, state representatives at odds about prison construction in Outagamie

Legislators urged the Joint Committee on Finance to postpone construction of a new juvenile detention center in New London, which would replace the Lincoln Hills School for Boys because of environmental concerns and lack of transparency with residents. 

Image By: Keegan Govin

With all representatives in agreement that the Lincoln Hills School for Boys should close, debates sparked over where to relocate, influencing stalls in construction and questions about the environmental soundness of Outagamie County. 

Legislators asked the Joint Committee on Finance to hold an informational session about the implications of developing a prison in New London, despite the mayor’s approval of the construction. 

In the letter, legislators asked the JCF, who ultimately decides if the construction will be delayed, for its support in making the Department of Corrections provide residents of Hortonia with information, noting potential disapproval or surprise from citizens.

“While the need to find adequate locations and the difficulty in predicting the long-term needs for serious juvenile offender programs is well understood, the announcement of the facility caught many by surprise with very little or no prior knowledge it would be chosen,” representatives said in the letter.

Those concerned with the pending facility in Hortonia also requested the gubernatorial administration to defend their intention for the chosen location, claiming it is environmentally unstable due to its positioning on an identified flood hazard area. 

However, New London Mayor Gary Henke wrote a statement to Gov. Tony Evers and the Department of Corrections Secretary Kevin Carr on April 10 expressing the city’s support and claimed a city council meeting held the night before resulted in unanimous approval of the facility. 

“We appreciate that there is a critical need for such a Type 1 facility, and we stand ready to assist you to meet that need by building a facility here,” Henke said. “We understand that there are some negative attributes regarding the location of such a facility here, but we strongly feel that the negatives are outweighed by the many positive aspects.” 

The Department of Corrections defines a Type 1 juvenile correctional facility as a building that “uses physical security mechanisms such as fences and locked doors in addition to control and surveillance by staff members to restrict the liberty of a youth committed to the facility by the court.”

Evers designated two cities closer to the homes of a majority of the convicted boys — compared to rural Irma where Lincoln Hills is located — in Milwaukee and Outagamie Counties March 12. 

The new facilities would replace the Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Hills School for Girls juvenile detention centers, meeting a requirement that mandated its closure after 2017’s Act 185 identified it as dangerous.

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