Youth prison lawsuits cost state millions in settlements
Though the state approved a plan to close the controversial Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake juvenile prisons earlier this year, lawsuits over conditions at the facilities are above $20 million and rising.Image By: Keegan Govin
After over three years of criminal investigations into child neglect and abuse, the state has been forced to shell out more than $20 million in settlements for the treatment of juveniles in prison, with more likely on the way.
Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls have both faced intense scrutiny in recent years, culminating in an $80 million plan to close and replace the complex with smaller, more localized facilities.
“Scott Walker’s incompetence and neglect are costing the state millions and Wisconsin taxpayers should be outraged,” Democratic Party of Wisconsin Spokesperson Courtney Beyer said. “Walker refused to take responsibility for the problems in Wisconsin’s criminal justice system and it’s only getting worse.”
Most of the costs have come from a single case; a March settlement in which $19 million was paid out to the family of a 16-year-old girl who suffered severe brain damage at Copper Lake after an attempted suicide.
Sydni Briggs, who had expressed suicidal thoughts, was supposed to be checked on once every 15 minutes, and immediately so after turning on an emergency call light.
The call light had been on for 23 minutes after guards found her without a pulse, but personnel were able to revive her.
Earlier this year, a suit by the American Civil Liberties Union found that the facilities’ use of pepper spray, solitary confinement and restraints violated the young inmates’ rights.
The District Court called for immediate changes after agreeing the the ACLU showed “amply shown acute, immediate and lasting harm” from the prison’s practices.
With at least five suits leveled thus far regarding conditions in the juvenile facilities, and over $100 million set to be spent on their closure, the state is bracing for more settlements to be tacked on.
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