ACLU files lawsuit seeking policy changes at two youth correctional facilities

Posted at 7:39 AM, Jan 24, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-24 18:25:32-05

The American Civil Liberties Union and Juvenile Law Center have filed a federal class action lawsuit against the Wisconsin Department of Corrections.

The lawsuit stems from allegations of abuse and neglect inside two of the state's youth correctional facilities.

"We hope this lawsuit will force the State of Wisconsin to treat young people in its custody with basic decency," ACLU Wisconsin Interim Director Molly Collins said.

In the lawsuit, the ACLU calls for immediate policy changes at the Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls.

The organization claims staff at the facility are overly aggressive, using pepper spray to get teens to comply with basic tasks. Guards reportedly pepper sprayed teens 200 times in just the first 10 months of 2016.

The DOC is also being criticized for its use of solitary confinement cells.

"Solitary confinement is damaging," Juvenile Law Center Associate Director Jessica Feierman said. "It can lead to nervousness, agitation, sleeplessness, and lead people to engage and self harm and even suicide."

According to the ACLU, 15 to 20 percent of inmates at the two juvenile facilities are in solitary confinement for 22 or 23 hours a day for extended periods of time.

"We continue to hear very disturbing stories about the conditions and treatment of children there," ACLU Legal Director Larry Dupuis said. "We hear stories of children being kept in solitary for weeks and months at a time."

Meranda Davis' daughter is currently locked up at Copper Lake.

"She said they kept throwing her in confinement and she basically lost her mind," Davis said.

We don't know all the circumstances surrounding the decision to place Davis' daughter in confinement. However, after hearing her daughter allegedly tried to commit suicide recently, she believes solitary confinement should be banned from juvenile centers.

"There's something really going on in that place for a 14-year-old to want to kill herself," Davis said. "For my daughter and all the kids who are there, I want to see change and I want to see better."

The Wisconsin Department of Corrections told TODAY'S TMJ4 in a statement that they are reviewing the lawsuit. 

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