Horrific details emerge from ACLU lawsuit


The Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls has come under fire amid horrific reports of abuse, mismanagement and several suicide attempts from the teens housed at the juvenile correction facilities in northern Wisconsin.

The ACLU of Wisconsin, Juvenile Law Center and Quarles & Brady filed a lawsuit Monday against Wisconsin Department of Corrections officials challenging the use of solitary confinement and youth correction facilities.

According to the ACLU, “The National Commission on Correctional Health Care, The World Health Organization, The United Nations, and other international bodies have recognized that solitary confinement should not be used on children for any duration of time.”

At the juvenile correctional facilities in Wisconsin, there are approximately 165 youth. And approximately 20 percent of them are held in solitary for 22 to 23 hours per day.

“If a parent locked a child in a room even for a day or sprayed them with Bear Mace or pepper spray, we would all recognize it as child abuse,” said Jessica Feierman, Juvenile Law Center’s Associate Director. “Research confirms that solitary confinement causes lasting and devastating psychological harm.  Pepper spray causes excruciating pain and temporary blindness. The children of Wisconsin deserve better.”

A plaintiff in the lawsuit Meranda Davis, whose daughter is at Copper Lake, said, ““It is painful enough to be separated from your child. “The detention centers are very far from home which itself is a challenge – but to know they are also experiencing this kind of ongoing abuse and mistreatment at the hands of adults in positions of authority is unbearable. These are children – this should not be happening in this country.”

Of the 165 youth at the facilities, most of the youth are African American and from Milwaukee, which is 215 miles away and more than 60 percent of the youth come into the facilities in Wisconsin with an underlying mental health problem.

“The way we, Wisconsin, are treating these children is not just illegal, not just wrong, it is immoral,” said Larry Dupuis, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin.

Today, a plaintiff in the case, 17-year-old J.J. from Milwaukee wrote about his experience at Lincoln Hills for The Guardian. 

When I got here, they told me there would be education and programs to help me deal with my anger and the things that got me in trouble in the first place. But when you are in solitary you don’t get those programs. If you are lucky you might get 45 minutes a day with a teacher. Being put in the hole makes you more angry, not less.

You also can’t keep up with school in solitary, because a lot of the time when you are only allowed out of your cell for the hour to exercise, you are “on the belt”, and they attach your handcuffs to this belt so you can barely hold a pen or anything. That’s if they give you your “out time” at all. Sometimes they just leave you in the solitary cell for days and days.

This isn’t really the place you want to be. One time, I wasn’t cooperating when they tried to take me to solitary, so they pepper-sprayed me. They do that to a lot of kids, even for nonviolent stuff like refusing a staff order. I’ve been sprayed five or six times. Sometimes they spray it into the cell, sometimes they spray it right into your face. It makes you temporarily blind and hurts really bad. One kind of spray they use is literally sold to hikers to protect them from bears attacking them.

For more on J.J.’s story, visit The GuardianRead more details about the lawsuit, here.