IRMA, Wis. (WFRV) – A recent report from a court-appointed Monitor showed signs of improvement as well as some areas of improvement at the youth prison in Lincoln County.
The latest report from the court-appointed Monitor, Lincoln Hills School/Copper Lake School reportedly has made improvements and staff attitudes are ‘very positive’. It was also mentioned that an increase in population at the schools combined with staff vacancies have made it difficult to maintain effective staffing ratios.
Back in 2017, a federal judge ordered the Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC) to make changes to juvenile prisons. The changes were to reduce the use of solitary confinement and pepper spray. In 2019, A federal investigation into civil rights violations at the youth prison came back with no charges.
The Monitor says that youth are being placed in operational room confinement more often than they have in the past under this administration. Operational room confinement is reportedly confining youth in their rooms not based on behavior but rather for operational reasons (IE short staffing). The ACLU argues that solitary confinement is ‘devastating’ for youth.
“While these operational adjustments are necessary to promote safety for both staff and youth, leadership should begin considering other options,” the Monitor states.
The ACLU issued a release bringing up how the situation is affecting taxpayers.
“This situation is bad for youth, but it is also bad for taxpayers. Counties have to spend more than $400,000 annually per youth to house them at Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake. We need to be investing our resources by expanding the capacity of intensive programs like the Milwaukee County Accountability Program (MCAP) and other diversion programs to serve youth in their communities – in a much more cost-effective manner,” said Karyn Rotker, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Wisconsin.
“As we work toward the necessary goal of closing Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake once and for all, we need to reduce the stress on youth (and staff) in the facilities today. We should start by increasing access to community-based services and diversion programs to meet youth’s developing needs through positive support rather than traumatic and ineffective imprisonment,” commented Kate Burdick, a senior attorney at Juvenile Law Center.
The Wisconsin Department of Corrections also issued a statement.
“Our goal remains to have the youth in our care out of their rooms for school and other programming from 8 am to 8 pm daily, when safely possible to do so. Recently, we have not been able to meet that goal for every youth every day. The facilities’ leadership is continuously reviewing options to safely maximize the amount of time youth are out of their rooms,” said Department of Corrections Division of Juvenile Corrections Administrator Ron Hermes.
The Monitor’s visit happened in May but was reportedly a review of activity for the first three months of the year.
In an effort to help address staffing, pay was made more competitive for Youth Counselors and Youth Counselors-Advanced. Most in the security positions are reportedly making $10 an hour more than they were at the start of the year.
“Everyone is looking for workers, so we had to offer a more competitive salary. We thank Gov. Evers and the legislature for working with us on that. We also hope moving the schools to Milwaukee County, as called for in the legislation Gov. Evers signed earlier this year, will lead to a larger pool of applicants to fill critical roles,” said DOC Secretary Kevin Carr.
It is also mentioned that the schools are now in ‘substantial compliance’ with 15 of nearly 50 items from the 2017 lawsuit. Punitive room confinement, strip searches and pepper spray were items described as ‘the primary focus’ of the lawsuit.
The full 33-page report can be viewed here. Lincoln Hills School/Copper Lake School is located in Irma, which is about two hours northwest of Green Bay.
Local 5 will update this story if more details are released.