New report: problems continue at WI youth prisons

MADISON (WKOW) — The state’s youth prisons are continuing to use pepper spray and keep inmates in solitary confinement for days according to a new report.

An independent monitor, Teresa Abreu, visited Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake youth prisons in December after a federal judge ordered the facilities to be monitored. According to her report, there are improvements, but still, much work needs to be done.

This is the first of several visits that will take place after numerous troubling instances brought to light accusations of staff and inmate abuse and neglect. The report shows both prisons are complying with only some practices to increase safety.

Karen Lindell, senior attorney at the Juvenile Law Center, who assists in juvenile litigation said she saw minor improvements including reducing the use of pepper spray and confinement.

“We’d solve this problem more quickly by shifting these kids to a different facility entirely,” said Lindell. “There have been limited improvements being made, something that was encouraging, but we’re seeing some of the many problems that we’ve noticed since we began this litigation.”

Lindall said the goal is to eventually eliminate the use of pepper spray and weeks of solitary confident before the youth prisons close in 2021.

“In some cases, we were finding a third of the population at the facility would be in soldiery condiment,” she said.

One issue the report shows is both facilities are not complying with keeping rooms ‘suicide resistant.’ Abreu wrote, “several rooms were not clean or organized… making it difficult to access if there’s contraband that could be harmful.”

Employees and inmates were also interviewed and said they’re open to the new practices but also identified more than two dozen recommendations for additional training.

On Friday, Governor Tony Evers visited Lincoln Hills. His spokeswoman, Melissa Baldauff, said criminal justice reform, particularly the youth system, is a critical priority for Evers.

“His visit to Lincoln Hills last week was an important first step,” wrote Baldauff. “The report released today confirms the governor’s belief that much more must be done to improve safety and wellness for the students and staff at Lincoln Hills.”

The Juvenile Law Center said staff plan to visit the youth prisons every three months to get an update on conditions.

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