Wisconsin Examiner

Some Progress, Still Problems at Lincoln Hills

Staffing better but youth complain about food, ‘hands-on’ staff and racism at youth facility.

By , Wisconsin Examiner - Jul 9th, 2023 01:53 pm
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 latest report by a court-appointed monitor on the Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake juvenile correctional facilities was released Wednesday. Several improvements were highlighted in the report, including decreasing staff vacancies, a return to in-person learning for the facility’s youth and physical upgrades to the area. At the time the court-appointed monitor visited Lincoln Hills, the incarcerated population had declined from a peak of 75 youth to 46, including one who was off-site, during the monitoring period lasting from February to the end of May.

Among the improvements cited in the report were an upgraded game room, lighting and exhaust fans in all living units. More options had been added for canteen and food service, which was in response to feedback from youth in the facility. Water fountains have also been updated throughout the school and administrative areas and staffing vacancies have decreased. In a press release, the Department of Corrections stated it hired a special education teacher, two psychology associates, and 28 youth counselors. In addition, all social worker vacancies have been filled.

While improvements to the existing facility were welcome, the monitor noted the importance of moving the youth closer to home. “The state’s Joint Committee on Finance (JFC) met June 1, 2023 and adopted budget provisions to fully fund the construction of the Milwaukee Type 1,” the monitor’s report states. Building a new Type 1 facility in the Milwaukee area, where most of the young people detained in Lincoln Hills are from, has been a long-term goal.

In August, the Milwaukee Common Council voted 12-1 to support initiating the process of building the new facility in the city. On the day the council voted, there were 73 boys incarcerated at Lincoln Hills. In January, the council approved rezoning the proposed site for the new juvenile facility. In February, the State Building Commission approved the request for the land purchase. Just over $78 million has been allocated to build the new facility in the state budget Gov. Tony Evers signed into law this week.

The monitor’s report stated that “moving youth closer to locations where necessary cultural- and gender-relevant programs and services are more widely available, and where family visits can be more easily accessible, will have a positive impact on youth and will allow for a larger pool of applicants to fill critical roles.”

Staffing levels have been a recurrent problem at the juvenile facility, one of the largest remaining in the country. The monitor’s report stated that vacancies “have significantly been reduced, however, employee leaves continue to be high during this reporting period at LHS/CLS and across [the Department of Corrections].” On average, Lincoln Hills and its sister facility for girls, Copper Lake, operate at 50% of staffing levels. “Staffing shortages increase the burden on those who work to maintain a safe and healthy environment for youth and staff.”

Upon conducting an on-site visit and reviewing video from the living units, the monitor reported positive interactions between youth and staff while they were eating meals, watching television, playing basketball and during other recreational activities. “A few youths complained about the food and a few thought that staff showed favoritism. Two youth complained about the new staff not knowing what to do.” Youth got that sense from new staff particularly.

“Youth in the Skills Development Program complained about having education on the units using Chromebooks and not attending class in the school area with live instruction. Several youths complained about not liking the new Behavior Motivations System and not being evenly or consistently applied to all youth. Several youths complained that staff treated them badly. A few youths complained about staff going ‘hands on’ too quickly and too much. Youth also complained about recreation restrictions. Youth also complained about some staff exhibiting racist behaviors.”

During the reporting period, the monitor also reviewed use of force incidents within the juvenile facility. Whereas some incidents utilized the Principles of Subject Control (POSC) during physical restraints, others used the Mandt System preferred by the monitor. This is a system of preventing, de-escalating and, if necessary, intervening when a youth’s behavior becomes harmful or risky. Physical restraints, although part of the Mandt System, are less frequent than under the POSC system. The monitor stressed that, “the two techniques have sharply different results.” The report states, “oftentimes, the POSC restraints actually escalated physical restraint incidents, meaning youth got more upset and staff intervention was more aggressive than when the Mandt techniques were implemented, which in turn raised the potential for negative outcomes to safety for the staff and youth involved.”

The monitor emphasized that more activities need to be created for all youth, particularly those who are confined more rigorously. It recommended alternatives to what is called PAUSE, where Lincoln Hills youth are unable to move to less restrictive settings within the facility until they’ve met certain expectations. The monitor advocated changing the system, “so that youth are not disproportionately operationally confined.” The report further stated, “Defendants need to focus on following a daily schedule that provides for structured and meaningful activities and accountability (off the unit as much as possible) to minimize the incidents of youth acting out and ensuring staff are adhering to the schedule absent an emergency.”

Despite those issues, the monitor emphasized the efforts towards improving Lincoln Hills made by the DOC. “The population trended down, and staff vacancy rates improved resulting in improved staffing ratios in this reporting period,” the report states. Further development of educational programming and activities, as well as further de-escalation training, were recommended changes. Regardless of those, the report read, “there needs to be a continued focus on moving youth from [Lincoln Hills School and Copper Lake School] to more appropriate setting(s) or diverting them from confinement entirely. Overall, the monitor continues to see progress.”

Progress and problems persist at Lincoln Hills was originally published by the Wisconsin Examiner.

Categories: Wisconsin Examiner

One thought on “Some Progress, Still Problems at Lincoln Hills”

  1. Mingus says:

    I laugh when the consultants talk about the need to move the residents “closer to home”. The correctional facility at Wales Wisconsin is closer to home but the State still closed it. All of the problems that developed at Lincoln Hills were predictable. For the 78 million dollars that is going into the new facility, the facility at Wales could have been updated with money left over. This is another Scott Walker boondoggle like Foxconn.

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