Court Watch

Pictures of Youths in Prison

ACLU’s suit documents questionable treatment at Lincoln Hills, Copper Lake.

By , Wisconsin Justice Initiative - Jun 20th, 2017 03:10 pm
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Lincoln Hills School and Copper Lake School. Photo from the Wisconsin Department of Corrections.

Lincoln Hills School and Copper Lake School. Photo from the Wisconsin Department of Corrections.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin last week filed a few pictures showing how youths in solitary confinement are treated when they are actually let out of their cells.

The pictures were filed in support of a request by the ACLU and the for a temporary injunction to halt the use of pepper spray, mechanical restraints, and solitary confinement except under very limited, urgent situations.

The defendants in the suit, meanwhile, admitted holding youth for more than 50 consecutive days in solitary confinement and pepper spraying youths who were in their cells or in mechanical restraints, among many other things. The document of admissions can be found here.

The ACLU, along with the Juvenile Law Center and with pro-bono assistance from Quarles & Brady LLPis suing on behalf of past and current inmates of Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake youth prisons, alleging the extreme disciplinary practices at Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake violate the inmates’ constitutional rights against unreasonable searches and cruel and unusual punishment and their right to due process. The suit alleges the institutions make routine use of strip searches, chemical sprays, solitary confinement and mechanical restraints.

The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge James D. Peterson.

Lawyers for defendants in the case argued in a separate document that a court-ordered limit on the the use of pepper spray, solitary confinement, and mechanical restraints could actually hurt efforts by state and school officials to cut back on those things.

The defendants, including Department of Corrections Secretary Jon E. Litscher, also object to the terms “pepper spray,” “on the belt,” and “solitary confinement.” Those terms are all “obsolete” and “inaccurate,” the defendants say.

This picture shows one of the plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit tethered to a table in a Lincoln Hills security unit, according to an affidavit filed by ACLU attorney Larry Dupuis. The youth is "on the belt," meaning his wrists are handcuffed to a belt circling his waist.

This picture shows one of the plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit tethered to a table in a Lincoln Hills security unit, according to an affidavit filed by ACLU attorney Larry Dupuis. The youth is “on the belt,” meaning his wrists are handcuffed to a belt circling his waist.

This picture shows a tether and handcuff set dangling from a table in the security unit.

This picture shows a tether and handcuff set dangling from a table in the security unit.

The picture shows the distance from the edge of the table to the handcuff when the connecting tether is pulled taut. In other words, it shows the limited freedom of movement the youth has when out of his cell and tethered to a table, a common practice, according to the lawsuit

The picture shows the distance from the edge of the table to the handcuff when the connecting tether is pulled taut. In other words, it shows the limited freedom of movement the youth has when out of his cell and tethered to a table, a common practice, according to the lawsuit

The state's defendants say youth in solitary are let out of their cells for recreation time. Here is a cell used as a recreation room in the security unit at Lincoln Hills.

The state’s defendants say youth in solitary are let out of their cells for recreation time. Here is a cell used as a recreation room in the security unit at Lincoln Hills.

Here are some of the things the defendants admitted (while maintaining their objections to the terms above), according to a court filing:

  • Staff used pepper spray on youths in the two schools more than 200 times last year.
  • The general substance of the following statement is accurate: “The majority of youth held at LHS and CLS  have a history of childhood trauma, mental illness, cognitive impairments, and / or developmental disabilities.
  • Staff  have placed in solitary confinement youths whose records include a diagnosis of mental illness, disorder or defect.
  • Staff have used pepper spray on youths who are locked in their cells or who are in mechanical restraints.
  • Some of the cells in the Lincoln Hills restricted housing units do not have toilets.
  • Some of the segregation cells at Copper Lake do not have toilets.
  • The light in each segregation cell stays lit 24 hours a day, though it is dimmed at night.
  • Youths in segregation cells generally eat their meals in their cells.
  • The Department of Corrections has transferred youths from restrictive housing to the Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center, a mental health facility.
  • Youth have been kept in solitary confinement for longer than 50 consecutive days.
  • Youth have been kept in solitary confinement for longer than 180 cumulative days.
  • Youth have been kept “on the belt” in solitary confinement for more than 28 straight days.
  • Staff recognizes that bystander youths may be affected by “incapacitating agents” and “makes efforts to alleviate the effects on case-by-case-bases.”
  • Staff conducts strip searches of youth at the two facilities without individualized suspicion of wrongdoing by a particular youth.
  • As of March, 2017, 96.5% of staff at the two schools was white; the majority of youth at the schools are African-American.

Gretchen Schuldt writes a blog for Wisconsin Justice Initiative, whose mission is “To improve the quality of justice in Wisconsin by educating the public about legal issues and encouraging civic engagement in and debate about the judicial system and its operation.”

More about the Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake

Categories: Court Watch, Crime

One thought on “Court Watch: Pictures of Youths in Prison”

  1. Judy Kuhn says:

    Thank you, Urban Milwaukee.

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