In the wake of a recent incident involving a youth and youth counselor, additional changes will soon be sweeping over Lincoln Hills School for Boys (LHS) and Copper Lake School for Girls (CLS) in Irma.
In a memo sent last Thursday to division administrators (and subsequently released to the media), Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC) Secretary Ed Wall indicated an incident occurred two weeks ago at the juvenile detention facility that resulted in a youth being seriously injured.
“We experienced another incident this past weekend where a youth was assaulted by a staff member and sustained serious physical injury due to the actions of a youth counselor,” Wall states in the memo. “Although I remain confident that the vast majority of staff at CL/LHS is caring, trusted and do their jobs as expected, there remains a concern that some people may not perform to the standards we expect.”
As a result, Wall ordered immediate changes to staffing, procedure and training at the facility including “expediting all investigative and disciplinary proceedings against any staff member who has been identified as being involved in abuse, neglect, assaultive actions or any wrong doing whatsoever towards any youth in our custody now or in the past.”
Wall also indicated a need to identify immediate training needs for supervisors and staff at the facilities.
The recent incident happened during an ongoing investigation which began in January 2015, after the DOC received reports concerning possible mistreatment of youth by a small number of security staff at the two facilities.
“As a result of that information, we immediately placed staff associated with the allegations received on Administrative Leave pending an investigation,” Wall stated. “We contacted the sheriff (Jeff Jaeger) to notify him of the information we had, as required by law and requested that the sheriff allow us to take the investigation to the Department of Justice, Division of Criminal Investigation so that a neutral and detached review could be done.”
The investigation has continued over the past year, resulting in more allegations being discovered and additional staff being placed on administrative leave, according to the memo.
“From the DOC standpoint, I know we have leaned forward at every step to assure we did everything possible to facilitate the investigation and take appropriate measures to guarantee safety,” Wall stated. “Recently, our department was briefed on the DOJ (Department of Justice) findings in their investigation. At that time they expressed a concern that there was a ‘culture’ at CLS/LHS with some staff that may leave youth at risk for harm. That revelation was concerning to me.”
According to DOC spokesperson Joy Staab, “DOC proactively referred (the investigation) to DOJ due to the fact that some of the allegations were coming from youth already released from custody and DOJ has criminal jurisdiction throughout the state.”
As a result of the DOJ findings, Wall’s office moved forward with administrative changes including a new superintendent for the facility, a new Juvenile Corrections Division Administrator, two security captains and a security chief to assist the new administration in reviewing operational, technological and training issues. Additional changes included all HR transactions dealing with allegations of misuse of authority, abuse or any type of injury to a youth, no matter how slight, being immediately reported to Wall’s office as well as the immediate establishment of a youth injury review panel that will include Dept. Juvenile Corrections administration, the Office of the Secretary and Chief Legal Counsel.
The panel was then assigned to review every injury, to any youth, regardless of how it was sustained.
Due to the ongoing investigation, Staab stated no other information is being released at this time.
“Please note, our top priority is the safety and wellbeing of all juveniles and staff at the Copper Lake/Lincoln Hills Schools,” Staab stated. “The Department of Corrections is committed to our vitally important mission of public safety, while protecting our staff and those in our custody.”
A supervisor at Lincoln Hills School also declined to release additional information on Tuesday. When asked of a “raid” of the facility by law enforcement officials over the weekend, as reported by other media outlets, the supervisor stated that too could neither be confirmed nor denied.