Groups want Wisconsin to end solitary confinement of youth

MILWAUKEE -- Wisconsin juvenile advocacy groups are asking a federal court to order the state to stop using solitary confinement at its youth correctional facilities.

The ACLU of Wisconsin, in conjunction with the Juvenile Law Center and Quarles & Brady have filed a request for a preliminary injunction in federal court "to halt the unconstitutional use of solitary confinement and other inhumane conditions and practices for youth in state-run correctional facilities."

According to a news release from the ACLU of Wisconsin, this suit was originally filed in January on behalf of youth confined in the Lincoln Hills School for Boys and the Copper Lake School for Girls.

The groups have now filed an amended complaint -- with additional children incarcerated at Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake as plaintiffs.

“Isolating, handcuffing and pepper spraying children is not only dehumanizing and traumatizing,” said Larry Dupuis, legal director of the ACLU of Wisconsin in the release. “It is also unnecessary and counterproductive.  As experts in the field show, these practices actually undermine institutional safety and security.  As a result, most juvenile correctional facilities no longer use pepper spray, restraints or punitive solitary confinement.”

The ACLU of Wisconsin makes the following claims in the news release about treatment at the Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake youth prisons:

"Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake incarcerate about 150 to 200 youth, some as young as 14 years old. It confines about 15 to 20% percent of the youths at any given time in seven or eight by ten foot solitary confinement cells for 22 or 23 hours a day.  On top of that, the guards keep many of these children in handcuffs attached to a belt around their waists, and then handcuffed to a table or desk, during the hour or two they are allowed out of their cells. Guards throughout Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake also regularly use peppers spray on the youth, causing pain and burning and impairing their breathing and health.

As the Complaint asserts, these practices violate children’s constitutional rights, including their rights to substantive due process, as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and their right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment, as guaranteed by the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution."

According to the ACLU of Wisconsin, this lawsuit seeks "immediate relief for the young people in these facilities while this case is being litigated."