Group urges DOC to reconsider Milwaukee prison to replace Lincoln Hills

NOW: Group urges DOC to reconsider Milwaukee prison to replace Lincoln Hills

MILWAUKEE Wis. (CBS 58) -- Faith leaders and community members are hoping to convince state officials to reconsider a correctional center in Milwaukee as replacement to Lincoln Hills youth prison.

The Felmers O. Chaney Correctional Center is being considered to replace the troubled youth prisons, Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake, which have been under criminal investigations for four years for abusing juveniles.

The state agreed to paid more than $25 million in settlements after many juveniles were left in solitary confinement for weeks, pepper sprayed and in some cases, seriously injured.

While no final decision has been made on a new location, opponents are worried about the possible closure of Felmers Chaney which they believe is essential to helping inmates prepare to reenter the workforce.

A spokesman for the Wisconsin Department of Corrections said the facility is one option they are "seriously considering."

"No final decision has been made on the location of any replacement facility(ies), but Felmers Chaney is one option we are seriously considering," said John Beard, DOC spokesman.

Closing the juvenile prisons has been years in the making.

Last year, lawmakers voted to close the prisons and build smaller regional facilities with the intent to have inmates closer to where they live. The Legislature approved about $42 million to build a new location, but each time a possible site is considered, it's met with pushback.

The group "Save the Chaney Center" has held multiple demonstrations outside the facility, calling on state and local leader to find an alternative site.

Pastor David Rebey from Breaking the Chains Church said he's been hosting bible study with inmates at Chaney for the last five years. He opposes the idea of getting rid of the facility that primarily helps soon to be released incarcerated individuals prepare for the real world.

"[This facility] is solving a very important need in the community to help people get off to a good start and help people avoid coming back to prison quickly," said Rebey.

Before Chaney was on the table, a juvenile detention facility on the Glendale-Milwaukee border was an option. Glendale officials opposed the state's plan for a 32-bed facility, arguing it was an abrupt proposal without their input.

A Milwaukee County-run facility was also in the works, but officials have yet to reschedule a hearing on the matter.

Democratic Senator Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) opposes transforming the Chaney Center into a juvenile facility. She expressed frustration with the lack of progress in closing the youth prisons and wants state and local officials to collaborate to find another location.

"What we need is the state to be able to use their land that they have or the city to provide an alternative site," said Taylor. "So we do not lose a workforce based facility that we need for individuals to return to work in our community and be productive citizens in our community."

The criminal investigations into Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake led to a court-appointed monitor who makes frequent visits to review the conditions. The last few reports have shown improvements. November's report showed no complaints from the youth.