Lawsuits over state's youth prisons top $20 million

MADISON (WKOW) -- Lawsuits over problems at the state's youth prisons are adding up to cost the state millions.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports legal troubles are costing up to $20.6 million.

For more than three years, Lincoln Hills School for Boys has been under a criminal investigation for things like prisoner abuse and child neglect. If these charges are issued in court, it could lead to more problems for the state, costing even more.

The decision by lawmakers to finally close Lincoln Hills and open smaller facilities across the state will cost the state more than $100 million.

At least five lawsuits have been filed for circumstances such as a 16-year-old girl who was left severely brain damaged after she tried to hang herself in her cell.  In March, the state settled that case with the family and their daughter for $19 million.

Race to Equity group, which works to keep youth out of the system, said it's pleased Lincoln Hills is closed but the work is far from over.

“It's important that they acknowledged the time that it took to actually shut it down and that in fact there were great injustices taking place at the youth facilities,” said Erica Nelson, Director of Race to Equity. “Part of admitting and not shoving it under the rug is a good first step."

Recently, two top Republicans in the state Legislature, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, weighed in on the juvenile justice system.

Fitzgerald called the problems at Lincoln Hills "a mess" and hoped the Scott Walker administration acted sooner to address it. Speaker Vos said last month he's disappointed the governor won't visit and doesn't have plans to visit any state prison anytime soon.

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