'It's time for us to do better': Lincoln Hills report shows inmates pepper sprayed, at risk of suicide

NOW: ’It’s time for us to do better’: Lincoln Hills report shows inmates pepper sprayed, at risk of suicide


MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Local organizations are calling for change at the Lincoln Hills youth prison. A report released last week shows inmates are still being pepper sprayed, despite a federal court order to dramatically decrease the use of OC spray. 

An initial court-ordered monitor report of Lincoln Hills was filed back in January, with recommendations for prison officials to better the facility. Last week, a follow-up report was issued showing prison officials have not made all of the recommended changes. The report found Lincoln Hills isn't doing enough to prevent suicide. Rooms continue to have items where young inmates can harm themselves. 

"The monitor would not deem any room in any facility as being 'suicide resistant'," Monitor Teresa Abreu wrote in the report. 

Abreu also found continued staffing shortages where prison staff said they were often tired and worked double shifts, sometimes several days in a row. The monitor found a lack of programming and time spent on education. In addition, prison staff is not fully complying with the federal court order to dramatically reduce the use of isolation and pepper spray to manage inmate behavior. 

"Staff do not feel safe and do not feel they are adequately trained and prepared with alternatives to OC spray," Abreu wrote in the report. 

 However, there has been an improvement, the use of pepper spray has decreased in the last three months. 

Director of Youth Justice Milwaukee Sharlen Moore said it's good to see progress, but it's not enough. 

"We value any progress that's made to keep our most vulnerable youth safe, but it also shows we have a long way to go as well," Moore said. 

The report comes days after federal prosecutors closed a years-long investigation of the facility without charging anyone. Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul said he would not re-open the review. 

"There's no question that we need substantial reform to our juvenile corrections system here in Wisconsin," Kaul said in a press conference last week. 

Moore would like to see better conditions for Wisconsin's juvenile inmates. 

"it's time for us to do better by those young people and that is creating spaces and creating opportunities that are going to meet a young person's need and not just building a cage to put them in," Moore said. 

Lincoln Hills, located north of Wausau, has had problems for years. Former Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill last year that closes the prison by 2021 and moving the inmates to county- or state-run facilities. But, that deadline is likely to be delayed.  Gov. Tony Evers says the closure deadline is too aggressive. He wants to keep the prison open indefinitely until replacement facilities are built.

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