State News

New report finds mistreatment continues at Lincoln Hills, Copper Lake

While the facilities are planned to close in 2021, problems reportedly persist.

While the facilities are planned to close in 2021, problems reportedly persist.

Image By: Keegan Govin

A new report found inmates at a Wisconsin juvenile detention facility are still being abused despite a 2018 court settlement aimed to mitigate harmful practices. 

Juvenile inmates, in conjunction with the American Civil Liberties Union and Juvenile Law Center, sued the Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls in 2016 for mistreatment.

While the state of Wisconsin agreed to roll back certain detention procedures, the monitor’s report determined that guards failed to reduce their alleged indecent policies.

These tactics included the use of pepper spray, unjust strip searches and excessive use of solitary confinement to influence inmate behavior, according to the report.

Inmates were reportedly receiving three hours of schooling a day, below the prescribed five to six hours of education, and spent less than three hours a day outside of their cells, a direct violation of a court-order. 

Teresa Abreu, who submitted the report, found guards felt undertrained and understaffed, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

Forty inmates interviewed in the report pointed out faculty who were “fair, consistent and caring” while labeling others as “disrespectful, dishonest or manipulative.”

Guards worked 16-hour shifts for consecutive days, sporadically checked up on inmates and slowly responded to inmate’s help. Uncleaned and unmonitored cells allowed for contraband items to exist that could potentially hurt both inmates and guards, according to the report. 

Wisconsin recently settled a $19 million lawsuit related to a 2015 incident in which guards failed to respond quickly to a former inmate’s cries as she hung herself in her cell. The inmate, Sydni Briggs, now suffers from permanent brain damage, according to the Journal Sentinel article. 

The report, however, does indicate signs of improvement. Pepper spray use declined but is still utilized. Prison guards adhered to an order declaring inmates could only be placed in solitary confinement from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Lastly, job openings for prison guards dropped from 50 percent to 15 percent. 

Abreu’s report shortly followed the closure of a four-year federal investigation of the facilities in which no one was charged.

Both Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake are expected to close by 2021. State lawmakers agreed to an $80 million plan to construct smaller, regional juvenile facilities, according to the Journal Sentinel article. 

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