A federal judge ruled Monday that the Wisconsin Department of Corrections must institute a series of changes to ‘drastically reduce’ inmate abuse at juvenile detention facilities across the state.
Coverage by The New York Times indicates that U.S. District Judge James Peterson delivered his verdict with the intention of reducing and eliminating constitutional violations at the Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake juvenile prisons, both about 155 miles north of the state capital of Madison.
Peterson’s order comes in the way of a preliminary injunction, aimed at curbing the indiscriminate use of pepper spray, solitary confinement, and shackles on young prisoners under the wardship of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections.
The injunction will remain in place pending the outcome of a lawsuit filed on behalf of inmates by the American Civil Liberties Union and Juvenile Law Center.
The suit alleges that guards at the Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls established a pattern of escalating abuse. The guards purportedly and routinely tackled and grabbed inmates at both facilities over ‘petty offenses.’ As time passed, they shifted to using pepper spray and solitary confine to punish minor misdeeds.
“The way we, Wisconsin, are treating these children is not just illegal, not just wrong, it is immoral,” said Larry Dupuis, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin.
However, Dupuis and the ACLU aren’t alone in condemning the conditions thrust upon juvenile detainees in Wisconsin – both the Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake facilities were under investigation for child abuse by state and federal officials alike.
Despite governmental inquiries, the ACLU said neither detention center implemented a single, meaningful change.
The plaintiffs and their counsel say that young inmates were routinely peppery sprayed and sentenced to solitary confinement.
Some detainees reported being placed in 7-foot-by-10-foot cells for months on end, only being released for an hour or two at a time.
On the occasions when inmates sentenced to solitary were allowed to leave their cell, they were either chained to a desk or placed in a belt held by guards.
“The U.N. might call it torture and I would say the U.N. knows a thing or two about torture,” said Dupuis.
Jessica Feierman, associate director of the Juvenile Law Center, agreed.
“If I locked my son in his room for a day, a week or a month, it would be called child abuse,” she said, drawing a comparison between the conditions of the facilities and typical standards for child welfare and well-being.
Wisconsin’s Attorney General, Brad Schimel, refused to defend the state from the lawsuit. His office had been investigating both centers independently.
Schimel said Wisconsin would have to hire private counsel to support itself in court.