On January 7th, 2022, representatives Snyder, Callahan, Behnke, Born, Dittrich, Gundrum, James, Kuglitsch, Murphy, Penterman and Sanfelippo introduced AB826. This bill would prohibit Wisconsin’s Department of Corrections’s current and very necessary restriction on the use of pepper spray by DOC employees.
This bill violates the settlement in the J.J. v. Litscher case requiring the ban of pepper spray at Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake schools. We oppose any legislation that would allow for the use of pepper spray against youth at Lincoln Hills.
In 2017, the Juvenile Law Center (JLC) and the ACLU of Wisconsin filed a federal class-action lawsuit against Wisconsin officials for subjecting kids to solitary confinement, pepper spray, and other abusive practices at the Lincoln Hills School for Boys and the Copper Lake School for Girls. Under this settlement, the State of Wisconsin agreed to:
- Fully eliminate punitive solitary confinement within 10 months
- Eliminating the use of pepper spray within 12 months
- Strictly limiting the use of all forms of mechanical restraints
- Prohibit strip searches without individualized probable cause
Despite this settlement agreement, a January 2019 report from the settlement monitor found that both practices were still being used. While we’ve seen these practices fall in frequency since then, AB826 would undoubtedly revoke the process that’s been made on decreasing the use of force practices.
Uses of force, including pepper spray, are harmful and counterproductive to everyone, particularly our youth and those with mental illnesses. The January 2019 report states guards at the facilities continued to use pepper spray to subdue incarcerated youth "in instances where lesser means could have been used," as well as forced some youth into solitary confinement for more than seven days.
Use of force practices are often cited as having an exacerbating effect on increasing children’s anger and trauma, and increased use of pepper spray against these youth can constitute cruel and unusual punishment.
This bill will encourage abuse and long-term trauma to incarcerated youth, many of whom enter the juvenile system with anxiety and mood disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder, disruptive behavior disorders including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, schizophrenia, and other psychotic disorders.
Placing a blanket ban on pepper spray prohibitions will only create more avenues for unchecked abuse and increased excessive force. Incarcerated youth are long-owed a focus on actual rehabilitation practices and the State Assembly has no business contradicting that.