According to records released to the Wisconsin State Journal on Friday under the state’s open records law, the number of times inmates assaulted or tried to hurt staff at the Irma prison have risen more than 30 percent so far this year since 2016.
DOC staff at the youth prison recorded 195 times staff members were injured in 2017, assaulted or inmates attempted to assault staff — up from 145 incidents recorded in 2016 and 32 reported incidents in 2015.
It’s unclear whether that two-year jump is partially due to staff recording more incidents after 2015, when a federal investigation prompted DOC to hire new prison administrators and change its practices on record keeping. A DOC spokesman did not respond to a request for clarification.
But staff at Lincoln Hills and Copper Hills are also saying that the problems at Lincoln Hills aren't just due to kids that are out of control, as you will see in this report from Channel 12 in Rhinelander. While staff members agreed that the injunction limiting the use of pepper spray and handcuffs on the inmates had allowed some of the juveniles to act up more, since the consequences weren’t as harsh, the WJFW report quotes numerous staff pointing to a certain “bomb” that led to this mess.
"In my opinion, Act 10," said [youth counselor Stacy] Daigle.It also seems telling to me in the article that Northwoods State Sen. Tom Tiffany says the area around Irma needs the jobs, and that the rural community is a way to allow the youth to get away from bad influences. Hey Tommy- THEY ARE IN A PRISON regardless of where it is, so they're not on the streets in any of these scenarios. But you know what does increase the chances of those youths to get back on the right path? Being near family and having counselors that have familiarity with the environment those kids may have come from. I don't see either of those items happening in Irma.
"The brakes came off when Act 10 was enacted," said Doug Curtis.
"The Walker administration came in they came up with Act 10, they took our union rights away and next thing you know, everything started going downhill since then," said [youth counselor Kal] Tesky.
Act 10 was passed in 2011 to reduce a budget deficit. It took away collective bargaining rights and benefits for unionized public workers like the Lincoln Hills staff. That meant staff had less ability to negotiate for certain working conditions. Youth counselors regularly work 16-hour shifts...
Curtis retired a year ago after working for 20 years at Lincoln Hills. The dangerous environment was a major reason he left when he did. He still represents the prison's union workers and worries about them.
"It's only a matter of time before someone gets killed up there," said Curtis.
In Beck's Wisconsin State Journal article, she notes that the Wisconsin Chapter of the ACLU argued in a recent court filing that the State Department of Corrections still isn't doing their part to provide adequate working conditions at these youth facilities.
But attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union-Wisconsin and the Juvenile Law Center, which are representing inmates in the lawsuit against DOC, argued that the DOC is failing to adequately staff the prison, provide adequate programming for inmates and to implement the order’s goals. Some inmates causing the trouble are not being treated properly either, the inmates’ attorneys argued.And the disaster at the facilities for Lincoln Hills and Copper Hills is a direct result of Scott Walker’s political choices to take away the bargaining rights of state employees, and in closing the state’s juvenile correctional facilities near Milwaukee, and shipping those kids hundreds of miles away to the Northwoods.
“To the extent that the facility struggles with violent behavior by some youth, the appropriate response is to ensure adequate staffing, programming, treatment, security policies, and supervision – not to reimpose abusive and unconstitutional conditions,” the inmates’ attorneys wrote. “(The DOC’s report) suggests that Defendants are still far from providing the positive programming needed to ensure a safe facility and also lack adequate staffing.”
By this time, there is no band-aid response from the Department of Corrections or any other attempted face-saving by the Walker