MADISON - The ACLU of Wisconsin and Juvenile Law Center today called for the closure of Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake Schools, a state-operated youth detention facility, after a new monitor report showed that many conditions are getting worse at the facilities, and compliance with the court settlement has declined in the past several months. 

The newest report, which was released on January 25, 2021, showed a litany of troubling issues, including an increase in the use of force by staff and the inappropriate use of restraints, including mechanical restraints, against youth. The 2018 settlement agreement required restrictions on solitary confinement and limits on restraints and handcuffing of youth.  According to the monitor report, the rate and number of uses of restraints actually rose since the prior semi-annual data collection cycle in April 2020, to a rate well above the national average, and documentation and video evidence show that staff are placing youth in solitary confinement when it is not warranted.

The increase in use of force and restraints and improper use of confinement, are linked to longstanding problems the monitor has repeatedly highlighted: ineffective education with daily school hours below the national average, inadequate activities and programming, and limited  youth contact with families. This lack of structure fails to meet youth’s needs and has left them under-engaged, and, as the monitor made clear, has led to behavioral incidents. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that only 7% of youth felt that staff showed respect to them.

In addition, youth and staff at Lincoln Hills have tested positive for COVID-19, demonstrating the heightened health risk of keeping youth confined during a pandemic.

“This startling backslide in progress at Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake only reinforces the notion that this facility must close, as was originally intended,” said Karyn Rotker, senior staff attorney of the ACLU of Wisconsin. “The ultimate goal should be to return youth back to their homes, families and communities, not continue to keep them at a facility which clearly does not meet their needs and cannot provide the adequate education and programming they need in order to thrive as they enter adulthood.”

“The population has been reduced at Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake, which provides an excellent opportunity to return young people to their homes. We should embrace this move away from incarcerating children and continue to push for more effective, humane and restorative solutions,” said Kate Burdick of Juvenile Law Center. “Despite the progress that the facilities have made since the lawsuit was filed, the recent regression we’ve seen there is further proof that locking youth up, and doing so far from their families, isn’t just or productive.”