Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Lincoln Hills disaster a natural outcome of Act 10, other Walker incompetence

You may recall this Summer that a federal judge ordered staff at the youth prisons at Lincoln Hills and Copper Hills in northern Wisconsin to cut back on the use of pepper spray, shackles and solitary confinement following information about assaults and injuries to prisoners in recent years.

Recently, the violence has been turning the other way at those facilities, including a report out today that 5 staff members at the juvenile prison complex at Lincoln Hills and Copper Hills had to be hospitalized after an uprising over the weekend. Combine that, along with the federal judge ordering an update from the state next month, and Governor Scott Walker decided to spring into action.

In typical Walker fashion, Scotty blamed the court order and the media for the recent violence perpetrated by inmates at these facilities, and ordered Corrections Secretary Jon Litscher to carry out steps to get things under control.
As you are aware, juveniles at CLS/LHS are guilty of the most serious offenses in our criminal justice system. Juveniles who are convicted as adults are housed at CLS/LHS and have committed crimes such as first-degree intentional homicide, first-degree reckless homicide, first-degree reckless injury, second-degree sexual assault, battery, battery to an unborn child, robbery, and possession of a dangerous weapon. Moreover, violent individuals in these institutions have become emboldened following repeated media reports and court-ordered operational changes.

Last week, [Secretary Litscher] provided me with an update of the situation at CLS/LHS, including an update on attacks on staff. Clearly, the men and women who staff these facilities have challenging jobs, and we value their hard work and dedication. To support and further the reforms at CLS/LHS you have implemented, I am requesting that you appoint an interim superintendent of CLS/LHS while the Department completes the recruitment of a new permanent superintendent. I am requesting you select a person, with input from the administrators of the Division of Juvenile Corrections, who has an outstanding set of administrative skills gained by working in the Department. This person selected will work on-site, ensuring the court-imposed changes are met while protecting the safety of staff and juveniles.

We cannot allow individuals convicted of battery, armed robbery, and even murder to feel empowered to attack staff and each other in these institutions. No matter the challenges, we must provide the men and women working in CLS/LHS with the tools they need to maintain order in the facilities and protect themselves and to protect the offenders held at these institutions.

2 quick observations

1. Scott Walker talking about "tools"? That sounds familiar. Keep that code word in mind as we proceed.

2. WE HAVEN'T HAD AN ON-SITE SUPERINTENDENT AT LINCOLN HILLS? That kind of seems like your burying the lead here, isn't it?

It's not like these problems at Lincoln Hills have come out of the blue. Scott Walker's office was lambasted by a Racine County judge for "indifference" about conditions at Lincoln Hills in early 2012, and in late 2015, Wisconsin Chapter of the NAACP asked the State Legislature and Governor Walker for a change in how they handled juvenile corrections.
Responding to the controversy at Lincoln Hill School for Boys, NAACP requested the Ethan Allen School for Boys because of its proximity to Milwaukee. In 2011, the NAACP is aware that in 2011, both the Ethan Allen School for Boys (Wales, WI) and Southern Oaks School for Girls (Union Grove, WI) were closed for budgetary reasons.

The youth were transferred to Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake Girls School in Irma, WI over 200 miles north of Milwaukee whereas Union Grove and Wales were just over 30 miles away from Milwaukee. In 2010, over half the youth in the care of WI Department of Corrections – Division of Juvenile Corrections were from Milwaukee.

According to NAACP, by moving the children so far away, the majority of the children’s families had longer distances to travel to visit their loved ones in confinement. If the schools were closer to Milwaukee, it would also make it easier to hire more diverse staff persons and teachers. Additionally, more diverse organizations could interact with the schools to help provide more transparency about the everyday conditions in the schools.

Let's also remember that in 2011, there was another thing that changed circumstances at these centers for juveniles - a little thing called Act 10. This meant that Lincoln Hills and Copper Hills staff had the take-home pay reductions and removal of bargaining rights that most other state employees had, while at the same time getting more inmates.

You may recall the graphic pictures of Lincoln Hills teacher Pandora Lobacz, who was beaten earlier this month and went public with her story on local TV.

But what also deserves attention beyond the violent incident is that Lobacz pointed not only to the inability to take certain measures against students, but also chronic understaffing over the last 6 years.
"If you don't hold somebody who is criminal minded accountable," she explained, "they will keep doing more and more until something major happens or again, my concern is that they're going to kill somebody there. And it might not be line staff. It might be another student because we can't protect them."

On top of that, she said the facility is severely understaffed and cannot retain employees for long, describing youth counselors in particular as being worked to death.

"Your front line staff that's supposed to be protecting the other students and protecting each other are working 70 to 80 hours of overtime every pay period and that's within two weeks," she said.

She blames that on Gov. Walker's Act 10 and Right to Work laws for taking power away from unions Lincoln Hills staff relied on. She added Walker's consolidation of all the state's youth prisons in 2011 happened before Lincoln Hills could hire enough workers for the amount of juveniles they would hold. She said they have never been able to have enough workers since.
Huh, you mean they're having trouble finding staff to come to an unincorporated town in northern Wisconsin, in a county whose population has declined nearly 3% since 2010, to work with juvenile criminals for less take-home pay and fewer job protections? Who woulda thunk that?

And to circle back to the NAACP's point from 2015, does it seem like a good idea to send a have population with a sizable minority and urban contingent to be taught by staff in a rural area of the state that is 97% white? Anyone who has dealt with young adults would know that the chances for stability and success go up if they are in a situation that is more familiar and comfortable to them. That's not taking anything away to the staff that I have little doubt is trying their best to help these young people, but the relocation of those kids and the unfamiliar environment they are being put in has been an extra unneeded barrier for that staff that likely made their job tougher.

But this would require a governor who actually cares about both the kids and state staff in these facilities, and Scott Walker clearly does not. After 6 1/2 years in office, Walker still has yet to visit Lincoln Hills or any of the understaffed state prisons to talk with staff and inmates about what things are really like. It's especially disgusting when you consider the myriad of photo ops this Gov has been glad to make to captive audiences to schools and campaign contributors businesses.

Make no mistake, this mess at Lincoln Hills is a direct results of actions (and a lack of actions) from the Dropout in Charge. From the decision to close the two facilities in SE Wisconsin and relocate those inmates in order to save money for tax cuts, from lowering the value of work at Lincoln and Copper Hills through Act 10 wage suppression, to refusing to act despite being told of bad conditions at Lincoln Hills 5 years ago, this is all on Scott Walker and the Wisconsin GOP for not stepping up and dealing honestly with the situation.

And you can bet these guys will do the bare minimum to help both staff and inmates as long as they are in charge. Any help or changes they make is to mitigate the political damage that may result from their incompetence, and/or shelter themselves from the inevitable lawsuits that will arise. These guys simply do not care about anyone outside of their little insider Club.


  1. And WPR played right along with the narrative of ignoring Act 10 this afternoon on Central Time. Public employee safety and adequate staffing for prisons, for veteran service and any type of public needed services is cut beyond the bone. Thanks Jake. No phone calls taken during that segment on WPR this afternoon though I tried.

    1. Thank you for the kind words. Also throw in the recent article from Wisconsin Watch showing that the Walker Admin will not protect whistleblowers, and it is obvious that these guys have no interest in good governance and integrity.

  2. One of the more concise yet nuanced descriptions of this scandal -- and it is one.

  3. Imprisoning, abusing, dehumanizing is the prison-industrial complex. I would read with little note of concern of violent, anomalous action against guards, prison staff and other perps. In fact, in my heart I would cheer on those victims, inmates who one day say, enough.

    1. Hopefully some of these violent 'victims' as you call them, can take up residence right next to you and your family when they get out!! Then you can counsel them and show them some love.

    2. Better idea. Why don't we relocate them to your cultural trashhole? They'd probably improve the place and make it desirable for someone other than dead-end rednecks to live in.

      Since you claim things are so great in the exurbs, they'd probably have a better chance of keeping it on the straight and narrow once they get out, so we don't end up wasting God knows how many tax dollars on the jail-to-streets cycle. Win-win, right Bradley boy?

      Your boy Scotty has failed in every possible way on this one. MAN UP AND OWN IT.

  4. First - before anything else. END THE DRUG WAR. Deal with addiction as a public health emergency.

    1) Boost the pay for direct care staff.

    2) Put said staff members into the protective services category for WRS purposes like cops and firefighters. It's a sick joke that they're not already in that group.

    3) Incarcerate young people close enough to their homes to allow for whatever stabilizing people they have in their lives to be able to visit.

    4) Smaller, more distributed facilities make more sense than concentrating the population far from home and the sort of labor force that could support them.

    5) Those moves should allow DOC to staff the facilities so that OT is limited to no more than than can be easily filled by volunteers.

    People don't mind a little OT now and then. Personally, I'd love to get a few hours a week. Long term, heavy mandatory OT destroys people - especially in an environment like corrections.

    It's increasingly clear there's a price being paid for our "surplus". I think of the troubles at King when I read about Lincoln Hills/Copper Lake. Different populations - similar problems.

    1. Can also throw the understaffing and incidents at the Portage bad Green Bay prisons into this list. All stem from an administration that DOES NOT CARE.

      Also agree that having one large juvy facility seems like a recipe for bad stuff all around.