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Wisconsin Pays Another $5 Million for Abuse at Controversial Juvenile Facility

by Kevin Bliss

Wisconsin has agreed to settlements with three juveniles who alleged abuse while they were held at the Lincoln Hills School for Boys/Copper Lake School for Girls (LH/CL). Paige Ray-Cluney, Laera Reed and Jacob Bailey will receive a total of $4.78 million, bringing Wisconsin’s payouts in lawsuits concerning the juvenile facilities, located in Milwaukee County, to more than $25 million. [See: PLN, May 2019, p.26].

LH/CL was the focus of a criminal investigation in 2015 over the safety and treatment of juvenile offenders, which resulted in the school’s superintendent, John Ourada, and the State Juvenile Corrections Administrator, Paul Westerhaus, being replaced and the county declaring a state of emergency and allocating $500,000 to find alternative placements for youths held at the facilities

“After the atrocities that our clients and young women suffered at Copper Lake, the Wisconsin legislature is today considering closing Copper Lake forever,” Jack Bjornstad, one of the attorneys representing Ray-Cluney and Reed, wrote in a press release.

Bailey was 16 years old with mental health issues when he was sent to Lincoln Hills in 2014. He became disruptive in his cell, and two guards, John Wienandt and James Johnson, came in and forced him into a corner, twisting his arms behind his back and breaking his wrist. They subjected him to a strip search, then withheld his clothing and bedding for five hours. Bailey complained about the pain in his arm for a week before being taken to a medical center, where it was determined that his wrist had been fractured. His attorney, David Lang, filed a lawsuit claiming excessive use of force, unreasonable search and seizure, and failure to provide medical care. The suit resulted in an $875,000 settlement.

Following his stay at Lincoln Hills, Bailey later ended up in an adult prison. “He learned a lot from that place,” his mother said. “A lot of bad stuff.”

Ray-Cluney was sent to Copper Lake at age 16 in 2015. Iowa had closed its Girls State Training School, and was paying Wisconsin $301 per day to house Iowa juveniles. Ray-Cluney said she was subjected to isolation for a cumulative total of five months while there. She did not have suicidal tendencies before arriving at Copper Lake, but afterward attempted suicide a number of times, for which she received more time in segregation. She also claimed physical abuse by the guards. Ray-Cluney’s attorney, John Sandy, filed suit for excessive use of force and cruel and unusual punishment, which resulted in a $1.95 million settlement.

Reed, also 16 when she was sent to Cooper Lake from Iowa, and also represented by Sandy, said she spent a total of two months in isolation. She attempted suicide with a nightgown tied around her neck. Like Ray-Cluney, Reed had not been suicidal until she was placed in segregation at Copper Lake. Her physical abuse by guards was documented with photographs of her scraped and bruised fingers, and lacerations to her lips. Reed settled her lawsuit for $1.95 million.

According to Sandy, referring to Reed and Ray-Cluney and their time in segregation, “They had little to no educational instruction or human interaction. Their severe isolation caused PTSD, depression and led to numerous suicide attempts.”

The settlements in all three cases were reported in June 2019. See: Ray-Cluney v. Ourada, U.S.D.C. (W.D. WI), Case No. 3:17-cv-00591-bbc; Reed v. Ourada, U.S.D.C. (W.D. WI), Case No. 3:17-cv-00590-bbc; and Bailey v. Wienandt, U.S.D.C. (W.D. WI), Case No. 3:17-cv-00943-bbc.

Juvenile correctional facilities are governed by performance-based standards, which, according to the lawsuits, state that isolation is “to be used only to protect the youth from harming herself or others.” Even then, placement in segregation was only to be brief and supervised. Abuse of this standard was so excessive at LH/CL that Racine County Circuit Court Judge Richard Kreul sent a letter to then-Governor Scott Walker, stating, “...the indifference in this sordid tale is absolutely inexcusable. I’ll be thinking long and hard before sending another youth to that place.”

Milwaukee County Chief Circuit Judge Maxine White added that conditions at LH/CL were “inhumane” and that they subjected juveniles to harm. Governor Tony Evers announced in January 2019 that LH/CL would close in 2021, though the closures may be delayed until additional bed space for juvenile offenders becomes available. The facilities are slated to be turned into adult prisons. 


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Related legal cases

Ray-Cluney v. Ourada

Reed v. Ourada

Bailey v. Wienandt