Wisconsin Keeps Kids in Solitary Confinement – Federal Judge Agrees Practice Is Unconstitutional
In 2017, the Juvenile Law Center (JLC) and the ACLU of Wisconsin filed a federal class action lawsuit against Wisconsin officials for subjecting kids to solitary confinement, pepper spray, and other abusive practices at the Lincoln Hills School for Boys and the Copper Lake School for Girls. On June 23, 2017, a federal judge in Wisconsin granted the plaintiffs motion for injunction, finding that the use of solitary confinement, pepper spray and restraints at two juvenile facilities in Wisconsin violate youths’ constitutional rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. The court ordered the parties to propose the terms of a preliminary injunction to end the inhumane conditions and practices within two weeks…” Specifically, the judge said that the facilities’ use of solitary caused “acute, immediate, and enduring harm” to young people. The Wisconsin court now joins the Northern District of New York as the second recent U.S. District Court to make this finding.
The suit, J.J. v. Litscher, was filed on behalf of youth confined in the Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake facilities, which have been under investigation by federal and state officials since late 2015. Despite changes in leadership, the facilities still regularly subject kids to solitary confinement, mechanical restraints, and pepper spray. According to the complaint, 15 to 20% percent the residents are confined in 7×10 foot solitary confinement cells for 22 or 23 hours per day. Youth are handcuffed to a table during the one hour per day they are allowed outside of their cells. The ACLU and JLC argue that the practices at the Wisconsin facilities violate children’s constitutional rights and must be stopped.
In April 2017, JLC and the ACLU of Wisconsin filed a motion seeking injunctive relief and an amended complaint in their case. Read the ACLU’s press release here. According to records filed in June 2017 as part of the lawsuit, “nearly 30 juvenile inmates were placed in solitary confinement on average each day last month” in the Wisconsin facilities. That is more than 16% of the population. During a hearing on June 22, 2017, expert Vincent Schiraldi testified that solitary wasn’t necessary to keep youth facilities safe. Event the superintendent of the facilities agreed during the same hearing that the facilities overuse solitary confinement, pepper spray, and shackles.