May 11, 2016

Transfer juveniles out of DOC now!

By: Senator Lena C. Taylor

A teenage boy dangles from a noose trying to hang himself to death in front of his roommates while a guard looks on.

A different teenage boy was given the wrong psychotropic medicine twice in two weeks.

These are two stories coming out of Lincoln Hills School this week. The juvenile correctional facility has been under FBI investigation for wrongdoing since last year. The scandal led to a series of workers put on administrative leave and even the resignation of the Secretary of the Department of Corrections.

In the first incident, a boy tried to hang himself with a bedsheet. When his roommate saw what was happening, he hit the panic button and held up the dangling teenager, likely saving his life. The boy says he held his roommate for several minutes and was forced to keep holding him after a guard arrived while the guard waited for another worker to enter the room together. After the teens wrote me a letter about the incident, my office immediately requested an investigation from the Department of Corrections.

In the second incident, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported a 15-year-old boy was given the wrong medicine. The boy’s family says the incoming school superintendent told them it wouldn’t happen again. Yet, just one week later, it did.  

I wish I could say I was shocked by these allegations, but I’m not. Complaints like these are far too commonplace. I previously received a letter from a girl who also alleged her roommate tried to kill herself and the response time by workers was slow.

Representatives of corrections workers say that staffing shortages and employee turnover have made it harder to respond to incidents such as suicide. This is Wisconsin under the not-so-watchful eye of Governor Walker. Since he busted the public employee unions in 2011, we’ve see a mass exodus of corrections officers and they’ve had a hard time recruiting people to go up to Lincoln Hills. Do you blame them? Why go to work for a government that doesn’t respect you and doesn’t pay you what you are worth?

Governor Walker says his union busting efforts and low pay haven’t had anything to do with our current staffing shortages, yet DOC just announced they are going to spend $10 million per year to give pay raises to thousands of prison workers in Wisconsin, including Lincoln Hills. That’s about as clear an admission that you are going to get from Walker’s team that they are mismanaging our “Department of Incarceration.”

Several weeks ago, I called for the Governor to call a special session of the Legislature to solve the juvenile justice crisis. People have lots of ideas of how to best address the issue. Moving the kids closer to home, putting them in smaller settings are at the top of the list. But I believe my bill is the best idea yet. These are troubled teens, not hardened criminals. There’s still time to turn their lives around. The Department of Corrections has already proven they’ve failed these kids. We should turn over juvenile corrections to the Department of Children and Families, who can better address the trauma that got these kids in trouble in the first place, rather than causing more trauma that will keep them locked in the cycle of incarceration for the rest of their lives.   

Stay tuned, because this isn’t going to be the last we hear about Lincoln Hills.  

Connect with Senator Lena C. Taylor on social media on Facebook.com/SenLenaTaylor, Twitter.com/SenTaylor or follow her at Instagram.com/Lena.Taylor.