By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Wisconsin Department of Corrections must make a series of changes at Wisconsin’s juvenile prisons to “drastically reduce,” by July 21, the use of solitary confinement, pepper spray and shackles on young inmates, a federal judge ruled Monday.
U.S. District Judge James Peterson said in his order that the changes are intended to eliminate constitutional violations at the troubled Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake prisons, which are about 155 miles north of Madison.
The Department of Corrections and attorneys representing past and current inmates submitted a largely agreed-upon plan on Friday for the judge to review following a court hearing detailing the disciplinary practices last month.
Peterson issued his preliminary injunction on Monday and it will remain in place pending the outcome of a lawsuit filed on the behalf of inmates by the American Civil Liberties Union and Juvenile Law Center.
Larry Dupuis, a lawyer representing the ACLU, said the order is the first step toward reducing the use of the disciplinary methods. He said the ACLU looks forward to the day when the state eliminates them.
The Corrections Department was reviewing the order to determine its next steps, said the department spokesman, Tristan Cook.
“Our primary commitment is to maintain a safe and secure environment where youth in DOC custody can thrive,” he said.
The department has made widespread changes at the prisons to align with national best practices and provide quality education, mental-health services, programming, increased staff accountability and training, Cook said.
But evidence presented in court showed that Wisconsin was one of the few states that has routinely used pepper spray on juvenile inmates and sentenced them to solitary confinement, sometimes for periods lasting weeks.
The judge said in his order that although most of the big changes must be in place by July 21, he’s giving prison officials more time to carry out other changes. These, mostly to operating practices at the prisons, will require additional training for inmates.
Under the order, the Corrections Department must: