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State: ‘Significant unrest’ from curbing inmate confinement at youth prison

October 11, 2017 GMT

The state’s troubled youth prison is working to follow a court order to reduce its use of isolation, pepper spray and other treatment of inmates, but the process caused “significant unrest” among inmates that put staffers and other inmates in danger, the Wisconsin Department of Corrections told a federal judge.

The comments addressed Judge James Peterson in a new report on the department’s compliance with his July court order. It was issued in a lawsuit challenging treatment of teen inmates at Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls, both in Irma.

Plaintiffs in the suit, brought by nine current and former inmates, told the court that the Department of Corrections has made ’limited progress” following Peterson’s order but has yet to fully comply.


They say staffers at Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake continue to put inmates in isolation for non-violent offenses, a practice to which Peterson ordered a halt. The department responds that teen inmates have not been put in isolation “for disciplinary or punitive purposes” since Aug. 14, “except in isolated instances.”

Plaintiffs also say the use of pepper spray on inmates, which Peterson ordered to be reduced, actually increased since his order was issued.

The department counters that it has made strides in its use of isolation, pepper spray and restraints for inmates, a key part of Peterson’s order. Staff at Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake are tracking and reducing the use of isolation and limiting punitive inmate stays in isolation to no more than seven days, they said.

But the initial changes were met with “significant unrest” among teen inmates, who often cited the court order in refusing to follow orders, the department said.

“This unrest manifested in forms including heightened instances of physical and verbal abuse by youth, and heightened instances of youth refusing to follow or comply with orders, using the Court’s injunction as the reason for such refusal,” the department told Peterson.

The state’s only youth prison has been under investigation -- first by state and now federal authorities -- since 2015 for alleged abuses of its teen inmates.