MADISON- State Senator Lena Taylor is taking the lead on addressing problems at Wisconsin’s youth prisons. On Monday, U.S. District Judge James Peterson ordered that solitary confinement be reduced at Wisconsin’s youth prisons, and Taylor has taken the opportunity to promote her package of legislation known as the Juvenile Justice Bill of Rights. Other Milwaukee Democrats have worked with Taylor on the legislation. If passed, the package would end the use of solitary confinement at youth prisons, and would transfer authority over juvenile corrections from the state Department of Corrections to the Department of Children and Families.
Bill Martens at Wisconsin Public Radio reports:
On the heels of a federal judge’s ruling that the Wisconsin Department of Corrections make “drastic” changes at its youth prisons, a Democratic state senator is again calling for additional reforms.
U.S. District Judge James Peterson ruled Monday the state has until Friday, July 21 to reduce its use of solitary confinement and pepper spray on inmates at the Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls in Lincoln County.
The order was the result of a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Juvenile Law Center, which argued the current practices were making the facilities more dangerous for everyone, and caused physical and psychological harm to the offenders.
Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, said Tuesday she was “overwhelmed with excitement” with the ruling. However, she added she was “extremely frustrated” her repeated pleas for changes went nowhere and that it took a court to do what’s “right,” “just” and “fair.”
Under Peterson’s ruling, prison staff can only used pepper spray to stop or prevent an inmate from causing bodily harm. In addition, an inmate could only be held in solitary confinement for up to seven days, down from the current maximum of 60.
DOC communications director Tristan Cook said the agency is reviewing the order to determine its next steps. He said some changes had already been made, including additional training for staff and efforts to reduce solitary confinement, pepper spray and restraints.
As part of their package of legislation known as the Juvenile Justice Bill of Rights, Taylor and other Milwaukee Democrats are pushing for a ban on solitary confinement.
It would also move juvenile corrections from the state Department of Corrections to the state Department of Children and Families.
Read more at Wisconsin Public Radio.