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Marc Wehrs / Marisa Wojcik, Eau Claire Leader-Telegram 

Chippewa Valley Technical College student Katelynn Monson checks on a cow at Denmark Dairy in Colfax, Wis.

Prison experts see opportunity, problems with Walker plan

MADISON — Juvenile justice experts cautioned Friday that while they see promise in Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s dramatic plan to convert the troubled Lincoln Hills youth prison into an adult facility, its success largely depends on how well the changes are implemented.

Walker announced Thursday that he wants to spend $80 million on five new regional juvenile prisons and a larger mental health facility in Madison to house all female inmates. The plan calls for legislative approval in 2019, but in the wake of criticism from Democrats the Republican governor said he’s open to moving faster.

Lincoln Hills has been under federal investigation for three years amid allegations of abuse of inmates by guards. Guards have also been assaulted by inmates and one teacher was knocked unconscious by a single punch from a youth last fall. In response to a class action lawsuit filed by a group of inmates, a federal judge in July ordered a reduction in the use of solitary confinement, hand and leg restraints and pepper spray.

Walker had steadfastly refused to close the prison amid calls from Democrats to shut it down. And as recently as November he insisted it was safe for both inmates and guards.

Walker made an about face on Thursday with the plan that would reshape the face of juvenile prisons in Wisconsin and help create new adult cells at Lincoln to ease overcrowding.

Missouri and other states have a similar regional approach to juvenile justice. Each of the five new prisons Walker proposed would house no more than 36 inmates. Lincoln Hills had 149 male inmates as of last week.

“Nothing in the governor’s plan ensures that Wisconsin will have an effective approach to youth justice,” cautioned Jeffrey Butts, director of the Research and Evaluation Center at John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York. “Poor implementation and ineffective management can ruin the best of plans.”

Walker said he wanted to take time between introducing the outline of the plan now and formally requesting $80 million in funding from the Legislature in 2019 to work out details, like where the new juvenile prisons would be located.

Republican Rep. Joel Kleefisch and Democratic Rep. David Bowen, members of the Assembly’s Corrections Committee, issued a joint statement Friday calling for the Legislature to move more quickly than Walker proposed and pass bills enacting his plan this year.

“We believe it could be accelerated so our shared vision for safety and rehabilitation is achieved more urgently,” they said.

Democrats, including several of Walker’s potential challengers for re-election in November, said the governor was moving too slowly especially given that he’s known about problems at Lincoln Hills for at least six years. Some also accused Walker of only coming forward with a plan now because it’s an election year.

Butts, reacting to the outline of the plan Walker made public, saw reasons to be concerned as well.

“To me, the prominence of mental health terms in the press release makes the governor’s plan sound like more a public relations tactic than a comprehensive strategy for building an effective youth justice system,” he said.

Vincent Schiraldi is a senior research fellow at the Columbia Justice Lab who previously ran the juvenile corrections system in Washington, D.C. He testified in federal court last year on the side of the inmates suing the state over conditions at Lincoln Hills.

Schiraldi declined to be interviewed because of his role in the lawsuit, but he made a generally positive statement about Walker’s proposal.

“Placing young people who are in trouble with the law into community programs and, when they need to be confined, into small, rehabilitative programs close to their homes is better for public safety and youth outcomes,” he said.

Butts said there is nothing magical about smaller facilities, but they can be more convenient for family visits. One of the knocks against Lincoln Hills has been its remote location in northern Wisconsin, about 215 miles from Milwaukee where many of the inmates are from.

Milwaukee Democratic Rep. Evan Goyke has been pushing for moving to a regional approach similar to what Walker announced that would place three of the regional prisons in southeast Wisconsin. Goyke was one of the Democrats who praised Walker’s plan and called for the Republican-controlled Legislature to not wait until 2019 to take action.

“Nothing in the governor’s plan ensures that Wisconsin will have an effective approach to youth justice. Poor implementation and ineffective management can ruin the best of plans.” Jeffrey Butts, director of the Research and Evaluation Center at John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York

Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune 

Frost covers Queen Anne’s lace Friday in rural La Crosse County. A long-awaited warm-up is coming Sunday, when a high temperature of 30 is forecast for La Crosse. We can look forward to a high of about 14 degrees in La Crosse today, according to the National Weather Service.

FBI probing Clinton Foundation corruption claims

WASHINGTON — The FBI is investigating whether the Clinton Foundation accepted donations in exchange for political favors while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state, two people familiar with the probe confirmed Friday. The revelation comes as President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans have been urging the Justice Department to look into corruption allegations involving the foundation.

It is unclear when or why the probe began, but the sources told The Associated Press it has been ongoing for several months, with prosecutors and FBI agents taking the lead from their offices in Little Rock, Arkansas, where the foundation has offices. The people were not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. The Hill newspaper first reported the probe.

Critics have accused the Clinton family of using the foundation to enrich themselves and give donors special access to the State Department when Hillary Clinton was secretary of state. But public corruption prosecutors in Washington expressed disinterest in working with the FBI on a Clinton Foundation-related investigation in 2016, saying they had concerns about the strength of the FBI’s evidence.

A spokesman for the foundation, Craig Minassian, said it had been “subjected to politically motivated allegations, and time after time these allegations have proven false.”

Trump has repeatedly called for an investigation into Clinton, her aides and the foundation, harping on Attorney General Jeff Sessions for not taking action. Democrats say Trump is trying to steer attention away from investigations examining whether his campaign was involved with Russian attempts to influence the 2016 election.

Sessions in November directed senior federal prosecutors to evaluate a number of Republican grievances and determine whether a special counsel should be appointed to look into allegations that the Clinton Foundation benefited from an Obama-era uranium transaction involving a Russian state company. In a letter to the House Judiciary Committee, Sessions said the prosecutors would also make recommendations into “whether any matters currently under investigation need additional resources.”


Eriik Daily, La Crosse Tribune 

Onalaska's Noah Skifton takes a shot in front of Logan's Calvin Mavin in the first half.

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La Crosse Arts Board sets March deadline to find home for 'Hatched Baby'

The city’s Arts Board has set a March 15 deadline to find a place for the “Hatched Baby” sculpture.

The city of La Crosse has struggled for months to find a place for the 9-foot-tall sculpture, which is part of Friedberg, Germany-based artist Wolfgang Auer’s Blue Baby project. Meanwhile the statue has been stored by the parks department, which recently moved it to its new temporary home, inside the main shelter in Myrick Park.

“Certainly when the weather turns better, the parks board is going to want it out of there, so we have to consider that, and I think it’s a bad idea to keep moving it from place to place to place,” arts board chairman Doug Weidenbach said. “It is rather fragile, and I think every time we kind of move it, you’re going to have problems with it.”

Parks department recreation specialist Dan Trussoni confirmed that reservations for the shelter begin April 1, and the department will need to clean the shelter before people begin renting it out. The department also doesn’t want to be responsible for any damages.

“Transporting it from Riverside to Myrick was a challenge in itself,” Trussoni said.

Weidenbach hopes to find a place for it as public art, but said the city is running out of options.

“I thought it would be very good. People are still talking about it. They want to see it, but we can’t get anybody to accept it,” Weidenbach said. “I don’t know what else to do.”

The Arts Board is searching out every possible option, reaching out to both private and public groups, including Todd Bye, who arranged for its transportation to the city.

Bye, a member of the city’s International Committee, organized the sculpture’s move to La Crosse after it was part of an exhibit in Hamilton, Ohio. The artist, Auer, has loaned “Hatched Baby” to the city, and Bye thought it would make an interesting temporary display.

“It’s just something different. It has a tie to our sister city. The artist has been to La Crosse a couple or three or four times,” Bye said.

Bye knows the sculptor through the International Committee. Auer sits on Friedberg’s sister city committee and also created the clock that is part of Friedberg’s portion of the International Friendship Gardens in Riverside Park.

Bye described “Hatched Baby” as a unique piece of art.

“It’s interpretive. It’s a sculptural piece of art. It’s something different,” Bye said.

Like any other piece of art, it’s there to spark an interest and let people make their own determinations, Bye said, referencing a Henry David Thoreau quote that reads, “It’s not what you look at that matters. It’s what you see.”

“People will see it. They may like it, they may not. It’s there for interest,” Bye said.

The sculpture will be on the agenda for the Arts Board’s Feb. 2 meeting, but if it hasn’t found a home, the board may ask Bye to look into storage options.

Offering it to the Board of Public Works for display outside La Crosse City Hall “is the last move we can make,” Weidenbach said.

Arts Board member Barry McKnight acknowledged the baby was presented as an opportunity for public art, but with the lack of a place, it might not be one they can take advantage of.

“Do we have to put it up?” he asked.

Board member Robin Moses stressed the importance of showing respect for the piece and giving The Pump House board of directors time to consider it.

If a display isn’t found, Bye said he’d work with the Arts Board to find a solution.

Contributed photo  

The La Crosse Board of Park Commissioners is considering where to put Wolfgang Auer’s "Hatched Baby."