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ACLU of Wisconsin Files Lawsuit to Stop Alleged Abuse at Juvenile Correctional Facilities

LaToya Dennis
ACLU of Wisconsin says staff at Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake have been excessively using pepper spray and solitary confinment

There are more allegations of the mistreatment of juvenile inmates at two Wisconsin facilities, the Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls.

The ACLU of Wisconsin hasfiled a lawsuit alleging cruel and unusual punishment, over the use solitary confinement and pepper spray.

The lawsuit is the latest sign that problems remain. Two years ago, authorities began investigating reports of physical abuse and neglect of youth at the facilities.

The ACLU is suing on behalf of four juveniles at the Lincoln Hills School for Boys and the Copper Lake School for Girls.

Meranda Davis, a parent, says her daughter is 10 months into a one year sentence for auto theft and battery. She says her daughter attempted suicide after staff repeatedly placed her in solitary confinement.

“She said that they kept on throwing her in confinement and she basically lost her mind. She had a seizure. She just lost her mind and didn’t know what to do because she didn’t have any support. She just was like thrown in a room and nothing,” Davis says.  

According to the ACLU lawsuit, staff at Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake have kept juveniles in solitary confinement for up to 23 hours a day, sometimes for months at a time.

“The way we, Wisconsin, are treating these children, it’s not just illegal, not just wrong, it’s immoral," Larry Dupuis says. He's the ACLU’s legal director.

“It inflicts terrible damage on these youth. It inflicts terrible damage on the guards and it inflicts terrible damage on our society,” Dupuis says.

He says staff at the two facilities has also been excessively using pepper spray – with nearly 200 incidents over a 10 month period. He says he’s talked with several youth there about the effects of pepper spray.

“Other boys have told us they don’t like to shower it off because you shower it off and it runs down the rest of your body and burns the rest of your body. So some of them leave it on and then it burns for days because it’s still on their skin. We’ve heard other stories and actually seen some videos of pepper spraying into a room, a cell, a locked cell, fogging pepper spray in there to get the kid to obey some order,” Dupuis says.

He says he witnessed an incident in which staff used pepper spray on a juvenile for not taking off his shoes. According to Dupuis, the ACLU is not seeking a monetary settlement, but rather an injunction to stop staff from excessively using pepper spray and solitary confinement.

A spokesman for the Wisconsin Department of Corrections says that the state is reviewing the lawsuit and has no further comment.

LaToya was a reporter with WUWM from 2006 to 2021.
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