Gov. Scott Walker announced last week that the state will close the troubled Lincoln Hills juvenile detention facility for boys and Copper Lake School for girls in Irma as part of a long-term plan to improve the state’s juvenile corrections system.

Two words: About time.

For years that facility has been a liberality to the state. This is a chance to right the wrongs that have been done.

Inmates at the state’s youth prison have kicked in glass windows, removed doors, stolen pepper spray and used it on staff members and threatened to rape female staff members, among other things, records have shown.

There have also been allegations of prisoner abuse, sexual assault, intimidation of witnesses and victims, strangulation and tampering with public records.

“Ten staff members at the Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls in Irma told Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, through interviews with his staff that they fear for their lives and that the facility is no longer safe,” according to an October Wisconsin State Journal article.

Around that same time, the story came out about the teacher who was punched in the face by a Lincoln Hills inmate.

She reportedly told the student inmate to return to his seat. Instead of listening he said, “You’re not running the classroom. I am.” He then reportedly punched the teacher in the eye, knocking her unconscious. A photo of the image went viral, visually depicting the disarray going on at the institution.

In the past, officials, including the governor have said the facility is safe, following multiple reforms.

But problems have continued and it’s time now that Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake School should be shut down, for the safety of the youth and the adults who work there.

As part of the overall plan, juveniles in those facilities will be relocated to five new juvenile correction facilities and one new juvenile mental health facility.

Walker also announced the Department of Health Services will expand treatment for male juveniles located at the Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center and create a new facility at that center for female juveniles.

Funding will be provided in the governor’s 2019-21 executive budget to “construct, purchase and or rehabilitate existing facilities to house juvenile inmates.”

According to preliminary estimates from the Department of Corrections, construction costs for the new facilities would total about $80 million.

As officials look at where to locate new facilities, we encourage officials to look at reopening the closed Southern Oaks Girls School in Dover where the Southern Wisconsin Veterans Center is located. This would be a good use of the facility and moving youth here would help bring many of them closer to home and closer to their support networks.

We look forward to Walker announcing more details about his plan during his State of the State address later this month and we recommend officials move forward swiftly. This shouldn’t be delayed. This is safety we are talking about. It needs to be a high priority.

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