MOUNT PLEASANT — Retired Racine County Circuit Court Judge Richard Kreul was caught off guard when he heard a 2012 letter he sent to Gov. Scott Walker about a sexual assault at Lincoln Hills had surfaced.
That surprise turned to outrage after learning the governor never saw the letter and that years passed until investigations into problems at the Irma youth prison began.
“I guess the expression would be, ‘They swept it under the rug,’” Kreul said this week in a phone interview from his home in Texas, where he moved after retirement.
The revelation of the letter and memo about the sexual assault involving a Racine County youth added more fuel to the firestorm over Lincoln Hills, which was part of a discussion Thursday during a Racine Area Manufacturers and Commerce (RAMAC) legislative breakfast at Roma Lodge, 7130 Spring St.
State lawmakers representing Racine County sparred on Lincoln Hills while pointing to the county as a potential model for statewide juvenile corrections reform.
Vos: Withhold judgment
The state and FBI launched investigations late last year into Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls, with alleged crimes including child abuse, sexual assault and misconduct in public office.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said judgment should be withheld until the investigations are complete. Staff members work with kids who have committed serious offenses — not, as Vos put it, for “ding dong ditch.”
“It’s tragic if it’s true,” Vos said of the allegations. “But I also want to make sure that we have all of the information … I don’t want to wave a big wand and say all the people are bad.”
The warning from Kreul was forwarded to the Department of Corrections and never shown to Walker, the governor’s spokeswoman has said. State Rep. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, said Thursday “someone in his office should be fired,” adding correspondence from officeholders like judges should carry more weight.
Vos called the criticism disingenuous and said the sexual assault was an “isolated incident.”
“I get a lot of emails and a lot of letters from people all over the state. My staff tries to review and does, hopefully, review single letter,” he said. “But to somehow say Governor Walker should have read a letter five years ago, blah blah blah, I think it’s a lot of political gamesmanship and I wish we wouldn’t do that.”
For his part, Kreul said it was an insult to find out the governor never read his letter.
“Here I am an elected judge writing to the governor and he doesn’t even have time to read the letter,” Kreul said.
Spokespeople for the governor’s office and Department of Corrections could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Racine as model?
State Rep. Cory Mason said the state should get to the bottom of who knew what and when. But the situation also calls for a broader look at the juvenile system, he said.
The state might look no further than Racine County as an example, said Mason, D-Racine.
The county, which pulled all of its youth from Lincoln Hills after the 2012 incident, operates a juvenile detention center and the Alternatives to Corrections through Education, or ACE program.
The county says its data shows those programs are more effective in helping kids avoid re-offending and is cheaper for taxpayers.
“Looking at what Racine County did as a statewide model might get us much better results, save us money and keep the kids closer to home,” Mason said.