Under a criminal investigation for prisoner abuse and child neglect, Wisconsin’s only remaining juvenile prison continues to face significant unrest and calls for closure. An October attack on a teacher in the Northern Wisconsin facility is only the latest incident, with assaults on staff by teen inmates skyrocketing.
Susan McMurray , a recently-retired lobbyist or AFSCME in Wisconsin says problems at the prison started well before a federal investigation launched in December of 2015:
Susan McMurray: “AFSCME had been sounding the alarm since May or so of 2013 that conditions were deteriorating, that staff assaults were increasing, that there were more incidents involving the students…and we really could not get anybody’s attention, saying ‘hey, state officials, pay attention: Lincoln Hills is burning.”
McMurray attributes a large part of the problem to the state’s passage of the anti-union Act 10 in 2011. With a loss of collective bargaining rights, workers have been surprised with mandatory overtime and double shifts:
Susan McMurray: “A lot of the senior staff, they could see the handwriting on the wall that things were going to deteriorate. So you had this rash of retirement. What I’ve been hearing anecdotally is that you have staff working sometimes three, four, five days a week in mandatory overtime, like double shifts. So the workers who are there are extremely stressed out. They feel unsupported by management. It’s a recipe for disaster.”
Ongoing lawsuits could contribute to what is already an expensive problem for Wisconsin:
Susan McMurray: “The counties were paying to send kids to these schools. Their populations were declining, so the per-pupil cost was going through the roof. And it has become a vicious cycle. The state can’t continue like it is. It’s failing the kids. It’s failing the staff. Something’s got to be done.”