On behalf of four juvenile inmates, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in federal court against Department of Corrections officials alleging “serious violations” of the constitutional rights of juvenile inmates.
The complaint, filed Monday, comes amid an ongoing FBI investigation of prisoner abuse at Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls. The two facilities, which house about 165 youth as young as 14 years old, share a campus about 30 miles north of Wausau. State and federal raids on the facility at the end of 2015 revealed a host of potential issues, prompting the resignation of several key officials.
The four juveniles represented in the lawsuit allege that even after the raids, corrections officials are “locking up” approximately 15-20% or more of the facilities’ young residents in solitary confinement cells for up to 23 hours per day. “Many of these children are forced to spend their only free hour of time per day outside of a confinement cell in handcuffs and chained to a table,” the complaint reads. Pepper sprays are also routinely used against the youth.
The lawsuit alleges that these acts violate the children’s constitutional right to due process and to be free from cruel and unusual punishment and asks a judge to immediately prohibit such practices except in “rare cases.” Currently, corrections officers often sentence youth to solitary confinement for minor infractions, such as disrespecting staff members, according to the complaint.
Solitary confinement of juveniles in federal prisons is prohibited, a policy the U.S. Department of Justice recommended following a scathing 2012 report on the damaging impact of such practices. But state prisons are not required to follow federal policies.
In an email to City Pages, DOC Communications Director Tristan Cook said only that his department “will be reviewing the suit.”