Inmates climb on roof, do black flips, attack guards in standoff at youth prison

October 26, 2017 GMT

The state’s youth prison will have its fourth administrator in fewer than two years as Department of Corrections officials search for someone to take over the troubled prison permanently.

DOC Secretary Jon Litscher, at the order of Gov. Scott Walker, this week appointed the head of the department’s juvenile corrections division to oversee the prison until a full-time prison administrator is hired.

The prison, which is in Irma, has been without an administrator since Sept. 3 when its previous chief asked to return to her former job at the prison overseeing education after a federal judge ordered major changes to the way the prison addresses inmate behavior and expressed little confidence in the prison’s chief decision-makers.

Since the judge’s order, staff at the prison have reported an increasingly chaotic environment -- illustrated through one episode on a rainy August evening during which a group of inmates fleeing a fight scaled the walls of one cottage, stood on its roof and threw rocks, shingles and pieces of metal, records show. The four inmates also tore metal pipes from the roof and wielded them at guards approaching in riot gear.

One inmate was seen doing back flips and another threatened a guard, saying the whole ordeal could have been prevented if she had just played chess with him. Another inmate said he thought he should have been able to participate in a pizza party.

“Youth continued to run on unit roof, doing back flips and ripping shingles off the roof throwing shingles and throwing rocks at staff,” the report said.

An inmate also removed a large metal vent cover from the roof and threatened to throw it at guards, which would have caused a severe injury if he had, according to the records.

Doug Curtis, a retired prison guard, said Wednesday inmates often are able to climb on the prison’s cottages if they aren’t in restraints.

Guards were able to devise a plan to successfully subdue the inmates -- which included chasing them in a prison van around the campus and required guards to wear ballistic helmets and carry what’s known as a Projecto-Jet, or a military-style pepper spray gun.

No one was badly hurt during the Aug. 3 incident, according to the records, but others haven’t been as lucky.

On Sunday, five prison guards were sent to the hospital after an altercation and about a week ago, two female prison staff members were punched out by inmates who weren’t in restraints. In late September, a group of inmates seeking retaliation against a guard conspired to electrocute him but were unsuccessful.

Meanwhile, the prison’s administrators have struggled to implement the U.S. Judge James Peterson’s order to drastically reduce or eliminate the use of extended stays in solitary confinement and excessive use of pepper spray and restraints.

Staff say the order has emboldened the inmates, who are no longer subject to being isolated for weeks at a time for bad behavior without more than an hour of time out of their cells.

But Peterson and attorneys representing inmates in the lawsuit that prompted his ruling say it’s up to the DOC to come up with a way to effectively manage inmates’ behavior while also not violating their constitutional right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.