Wisconsin youth prisons are still relying on pepper spray and are keeping inmates in solitary confinement for weeks at a time, according to a report filed Monday by a court-ordered monitor.
The new report shows that the staff at Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake juvenile prisons are only partially in compliance with many of the mandated changes, and in outright non-compliance with the requirement that some cells be made “suicide resistant.”
Gov. Tony Evers toured Lincoln Hills on Friday along with Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes and Kevin Carr — the nominee for Corrections secretary — fulfilling a campaign promise to visit the youth prison.
An Evers spokeswoman said the report “confirms the governor’s belief” that a host of changes must be made to improve health and safety for both inmates and staff.
“He looks forward to working with Department of Corrections staff, community advocates, legislators, and local leaders on bipartisan, common sense solutions,” said spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections did not return a request for comment on the report.
The report was the first from monitor Teresa Abreu, who was assigned to the watchdog role after the state reached a settlement in a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin and the Juvenile Law Center over the conditions at the youth prisons.
Abreu noted that pepper spray was still being used “in instances where lesser means could have been used.”
Use of pepper spray on inmates was a major concern in the original settlement. Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake had as many as 21 incidents of such use a month, an unusually high number considering many juvenile detention facilities don’t have pepper spray, according to the Juvenile Law Center.
The report did have a few bright spots for the Department of Corrections, though. Abreu highlighted restraints such as handcuffs and belly chains being “used much less than they were previously.”
Abreu also indicated that a “majority of youth are not confined” in solitary for more than seven days at a time, a requirement of the settlement. However, she noted that “there are challenges to reliability of documentation” and that room still remains for improvement.
“While the report shows some limited improvements, many alarming and harmful conditions remain,” said Karen Lindell, senior attorney at Juvenile Law Center.
“As Governor Evers put it after his visit last week to the troubled facilities, the work needed to ensure safety and fair treatment for Wisconsin’s young people is ‘far from over.'”