Gretchen Schuldt
Court Watch

Judge Sets Guidelines for Lincoln Hills

Reducing solitary confinement and use of pepper spray on the list.

By , Wisconsin Justice Initiative - Jul 5th, 2017 11:52 am
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 state’s Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake juvenile prisons must reduce the maximum amount of  time incarcerated youths are held in solitary confinement, a federal judge told lawyers involved in a lawsuit over abusive conditions at the institutions. Other guidelines call for a reduction in the use of pepper spray, increase in the opportunity for physical exercise and an end to rule that only one book is allowed to inmate in solitary confinement.

State defendants in the case, including Secretary of Corrections Jon Litscher, have admitted the schools held youth in solitary for more than 50 consecutive days. The new guideline calls for a maximum of five to seven days confinement.

In addition, U.S. District Judge James D. Peterson wrote in a guiding order, “restrictive housing should not be routinely used for prehearing confinement.”

The prisons now hold youths in solitary confinement for days before even determining whether the young people should be punished through solitary confinement.

Peterson issued his order to assist attorneys working on a the terms of preliminary injunction to eliminate the worst conditions at the institutions.

Peterson listed a total of 11 points the defendants and plaintiffs in the case should consider as they try to agree on terms of the injunction. A proposal is due from the two sides on Friday. The plaintiffs, current and former inmates of the schools, are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin and the Juvenile Law Center, with pro-bono assistance from Quarles & Brady.

Here is a cell used as a recreation room in the security unit at Lincoln Hills.

Here is a cell used as a recreation room in the security unit at Lincoln Hills.

Peterson’s points include:

  • Limiting out-of-cell time to just one hour per day for youth in solitary confinement is “likely unconstitutional.”
  • The prisons should not prohibit all interaction with peers or routinely mechanically restrain youths during their time out of solitary cells. Social and mechanical restraints “may be imposed only to the extent needed to protect the safety of youth or staff.”
  • Adequate opportunity for physical exercise must be provided to those in restrictive housing. The converted cell in High Hall does not afford an adequate exercise space.
  • Youth in solitary should get their full rehabilitative and educational programming.
  • The current rule limiting inmates to having just one book while they are in solitary “is excessive.” Solitary conditions should be modified to “reduce isolation and provide adequate stimulation.”
  • The prisons must develop a plan to reduce or eliminate the use of pepper spray. “The reasons for past excessive use of OC (pepper spray) should be systematically evaluated, reported, and remediated. …If OC is to be used, the conditions under which is it to be used must be more narrowly defined.”
  • The proposed schedule for implementing the terms of the injunction “should recognize the urgency of remediating what the court has found to be acute harm to the youth at the institution.”

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.

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