Third Report from Federal Monitor Finds Continued Solitary and Pepper Spray, Dirty Cells (June 2019)
The report found that, although minor improvements have been made, staff continue to use pepper spray and threaten youth with being pepper sprayed. None of the cells have been made suicide-resistant, as required. Youth are still being strip-searched and placed in isolation. Records that document the use of isolation are insufficient, the monitor found. In 2018, Wisconsin passed a law forcing DOC to close the prison by Jan. 1, 2021 and relocate youth to new regional facilities. Governor Tony Evers signed a bill June 28, 2019 that extends the closure deadline to July 1, 2021, but has said he doesn’t believe the replacement facilities will be ready by then.
New Governor Funds More Staff at Lincoln Hills But May Delay Closure (Feb. 2019)
Governor Tony Evers stated that the state budget will include more funding for staff at the Lincoln Hills, a juvenile facility which has been under investigation for abusive conditions and solitary. Evers says that staff at the prison will receive proper trained and won’t be overworked. Although current law, Act 185 (see below), law requires the prison to close by 2021, Evers says “that may have to be delayed a year or two.”
Monitor’s Report Finds Solitary and Pepper Spray Still Used at Lincoln Hills (Jan. 2019)
Despite a settlement agreement in J.J. v. Litscher that requires the Lincoln Hills facility in Wisconsin to end the use of solitary confinement and pepper spray, the first report from the settlement monitor found that both practices are still used.
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.
Federal Lawsuit Filed – Settlement Agreement Reached (2017-2019)
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. Despite the settlement, a January 2019 report from the monitor in the settlement found that solitary and pepper spray were still used excessively.
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.