If Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and Republicans who control the Legislature need one more reason to finally work out a statewide plan to house and treat juvenile criminals, here’s one:

A new state report says it cost an average of $812,252 last year—or $2,225 per day—to care for each female juvenile at the Copper Lake School in Lincoln County. That average cost jumped 250% in a year, as the average daily population at the school dropped from 16 to less than 6.

The average cost last year to care for a male juvenile at the Lincoln Hills School, which is part of the same complex, was $343,615—a 41% jump in one year, as the average daily number of boys at the controversial facility dropped from 98 to 61.

Evers and legislators had promised to close both schools by now, but that didn’t happen. Plans for new state and regional facilities to care for juvenile criminals have not been approved, as legislators, Evers and county officials fight over their costs.

The latest estimate of what it costs to care for adult and juvenile offenders in Wisconsin prisons, and costs to monitor those on probation and parole, were in an annual report from the state Department of Administration.

DOA said it cost an average of $44,038 to house and treat 20,519 inmates in adult prisons in the year that ended June 30. That was a 21% increase from the average cost of $36,170 to house 23,633 adult inmates the previous year.

The COVID-19 pandemic caused the number of adult inmates to drop. The pandemic raised annual inmate costs because prisons stay open and have to be staffed 24 hours a day.

By comparison, the Internet site collegesimply.com estimates the annual cost to attend UW-Madison at $26,553 a year, including tuition, room and board and miscellaneous costs. The same Internet site estimates the annual cost to attend Harvard University at $73,800.

DOA’s report said the average cost to confine adult inmates last year ranged from a high of $78,948 at the Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility, where the average population fell from 954 to 573, to $35,090 at the Stanley prison in Chippewa County.

Other average annual costs last year to confine an adult inmate in the largest prisons were:

For women: Taycheedah, $50,391.

For men: Boscobel, $58,912; Columbia, $51,341; Dodge, $46,790; Waupun, $46,288; Green Bay, $44,850; Fox Lake, $37,621; Racine, $37,748; Kettle Moraine, $36,649 and Oshkosh, $36,113.

A third juvenile detention facility, in Racine, cost an average of $62,869 per inmate last year. Its average daily population dropped from 447 to 345 in a year.

DOA said the average cost to monitor someone on supervised release last year was $3,349.

When he ran for governor in 2018, Evers supported the goal of closing prisons and trying to cut the prison population by 50%—a decrease Republicans said would threaten public safety.

The budget Evers gave the Legislature included several changes that would have lowered the number of prison inmates and the number on supervised release who are returned to prison for violating terms of their probation or parole.

Republicans did not consider any of those changes.

“We know our justice system has put a strain on our state,” Ever said in his budget message. “Our prisons have been overcrowded, which costs more of your tax dollars. We can’t keep throwing your taxpayer dollars into a system that doesn’t help our state or our people thrive—it’s holding us back ... We can keep our communities safe by holding violent offenders accountable, save money and reform our justice system all at the same time.”

Typical of the Capitol impasse on criminal justice reform was a bill, passed by Republicans, requiring the return to prison of anyone on probation or parole who was charged with another crime. Evers vetoed that bill.

Sen. Julian Bradley was one of the Republicans who criticized that veto.

“I’m in favor of second chances, but we must ensure those who have already broken our laws aren’t getting opportunity after opportunity to wreak havoc,” Bradley said. “The system isn’t working, and we must ensure our laws put the safety of our families and communities first.”

Steven Walters started covering

the Capitol in 1988. Contact him at



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