Brief

Corrections department faces continued population rise, staffing shortages at Lincoln Hills

By: - September 19, 2022 6:00 am

Lincoln Hills, a detention facility the state has ordered closed by 2021. (Photo courtesy of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections)

As of Sept. 9, according to the Department of Corrections (DOC) weekly population report, there were 70 boys at the Lincoln Hills School juvenile correctional facility. The population has risen steadily since June, when it hovered around 58 boys. While the facility was built to hold more than 500, the steady influx of new youth comes amid efforts to close Lincoln Hills for good, replacing it with a new facility in Milwaukee.

The population increase and other issues were highlighted in the most recent report on Lincoln Hills by a court-ordered monitor . “This appears to be a trend that will continue into the foreseeable future,” the report notes. Especially challenging are the facility’s staffing shortages and the challenges DOC has faced in hiring staff. “This is becoming increasingly difficult as the population continues to increase, and staffing numbers continue to decrease,” the report states.

Regular monitor visits and reports were among the terms of a settlement in 2018 of a class-action lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin over the treatment of youth and conditions as the facility.

In the new report, units within Lincoln Hills were noted as having between five and 15 youth, creating even larger ratios of staff to residents. The report noted that youth were “extremely respectful” and more positive than during the last monitoring visit in April.

Nevertheless, during the most recent visit youth were not observed in their classrooms. This is largely due to staffing shortages, though direct instruction using workbooks and handouts continues outside of the classroom. “Youth complained that they do not like this format and are not learning as well as they were when education took place in the school area and all in-person with teachers present in every class,” the report states. “Youth complained that while there might be a teacher on a unit, it often is not the teacher who teaches the subject the youth is working on and thus the teacher often cannot assist them.”

The DOC has been working on hiring more staff at the facility. Three new youth counselors recently joined the staff, and seven more graduated from the Division of Juvenile Corrections Academy. A series of salary add-ons were also approved by Gov. Tony Evers earlier this year, adding an $11 hourly pay increase for safety staff at some institutions, and a $10 hourly pay increase for youth counselors.

“We’re excited about the new staff who will be joining the team at the schools,” said DJC administrator Ron Hermes in a DOC press release. “The added staff will help us increase programing, and reduce idle time and room confinement like we and the Monitor want.”

DOC secretary Kevin Carr commented on the staffing shortages as well. “It has certainly been difficult on the youth in our care and a challenge for our staff,” said Carr. “Thankfully, we’ve been able to ease the burden a bit with recent hires and we have more staff reinforcements on the way.”

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Isiah Holmes
Isiah Holmes

Isiah Holmes is a journalist and videographer, and a lifelong resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Holmes' video work dates back to his high school days at Wauwatosa East High, when he made a documentary about the local police department. Since then, his writing has been featured in Urban Milwaukee, Isthmus, Milwaukee Stories, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Services, Pontiac Tribune, the Progressive Magazine, Al Jazeera, and other outlets. He was also featured in the 2018 documentary The Chase Key, and was the recipient of the Sierra Club Great Waters Group 2021 Environmental Hero of the Year award. The Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council also awarded Holmes its 2021-2022 Media Openness Award for using the open records laws for investigative journalism. Holmes was also a finalist in the 2021 Milwaukee Press Club Excellence in Journalism Awards alongside the rest of the Wisconsin Examiner's staff. The Silver, or second place, award for Best Online Coverage of News was awarded to Holmes and his colleague Henry Redman for an investigative series into how police responded to the civil unrest and protests in Kenosha during 2020. Holmes was also awarded the Press Club's Silver (second-place) award for Public Service Journalism for articles focusing on police surveillance in Wisconsin.

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