Legislation Passed to Close Lincoln Hills by 2021 (March 2018)
In March 2018, the Wisconsin State Assembly passed Act 185, a bipartisan bill designed to close Lincoln Hills School (LHS) and Copper Lake School for Girls (CLS), two troubled youth correctional facilities in Wisconsin. The legislation sets a deadline of January 1, 2021 for closure and provides funding to the state to design alternatives to the two facilities. While the plan includes authority to create new alternative facilities, it does not specify how or how many facilities will replace LHS and CLS. However, the Act also identifies groups and individuals who will make up a study committee which will make recommendations regarding rules governing programming and services in new youth facilities.
The Juvenile Law Center, a plaintiff in the litigation, cautions that the new legislation doesn’t ensure that the new facilities don’t replicate the unconstitutional practices used at Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake.
Since in 2015, Lincoln Hills has been the subject of federal and state investigations and a class action lawsuit filed by Juvenile Law Center (JLC) and ACLU of Wisconsin with pro-bono assistance from Quarles & Brady. In June 2017, the federal judges in the case, J.J. v Litscher, issued a preliminary injunction designed to end the overuse of solitary confinement and pepper spray. The suit successfully resulted in a settlement on June 1, 2018. Key terms of the settlement include fully eliminating punitive solitary confinement within 10 months and fully eliminating the use of pepper spray within 12 months.
Governor Announces Plans to Close Lincoln Hills and Cooper Lake Facilities (Jan. 2018)
After a federal investigation, media scrutiny, and a civil rights lawsuit over the use of solitary confinement and pepper spray on youth at the Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake youth facilities, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker announced plans to close the facilities. Federal rulings in the litigation had already forced the Department of Corrections to limit the use of abusive practices (read below). The Governor’s announcement was part of a plan open five smaller regional prisons for youth in 2019. On January 16, 2018, the Governor’s Office issued a press release calling for bipartisan reform of Wisconsin’s juvenile corrections system.
Wisconsin Senator Proposes Study on Alternatives to Solitary (Sept. 2017)
The proposal from Senator Fred Risser (D-Madison) would require the Wisconsin Department of Corrections to prepare, within one year, a report for the legislature on alternatives to solitary confinement. Senator Risser circulated the bill in September for co-sponsorship.