Reports of Juvenile Inmate Abuse Prompts Prison to Adopt Body Cams

A Wisconsin school that doubles as a juvenile detention center has received several reports of inmates being mistreated, prompting administration to adopt body cameras.

by Matthew DeFour, The Wisconsin State Journal / December 14, 2015
Shelby County Sheriff's Department SRO Joseph Fox displays the department's new body cameras that officers are now wearing on Oct. 15, 2014, at Southwind High School in Memphis, Tenn. Stan Carroll/The Commercial Appeal/TNS

(TNS) -- The Department of Corrections said Friday that it plans to purchase body cameras for staff at a juvenile prison in Lincoln County, Wis., as one of several steps in response to allegations of inmates being abused at the facility.

DOC spokeswoman Joy Staab issued a statement Friday sent to DOC staff and others with information about steps that have been taken to address problems at the facility.

"The care and safety of youth in Department of Corrections (DOC) custody is the highest priority of the Department," the memo stated. "All persons identified as harming youth or placing youth at risk of harm have been put on administrative leave pending investigation and are not allowed on institution grounds. If any additional people are identified, they will be immediately removed from the institution and placed on leave pending investigation. The Department is taking aggressive action to investigate past misconduct, ensure immediate safety of youth, and strengthen school operations moving forward."

The memo said the department has appointed a new administrator of the Division of Juvenile Corrections and a new superintendent of the Lincoln Hills boys and Copper Lake girls schools in Irma. The new administrator is John Paquin, who was previously Assistant Administrator of the Division of Adult Institutions, and the new superintendent is Wayne Olson, a 20-year DOC veteran who most recently was deputy warden at the Prairie Du Chien Correctional Institution.

Former division administrator Paul Westerhaus was superintendent of the Copper Lake and Lincoln Hills school from 1994 until 2014, when he became assistant administrator of the division. He was promoted from to division administrator in April, three months after the department referred allegations of staff abusing inmates to the Department of Justice for investigation.

In November, a month after a John Doe investigation in Lincoln County into abuse allegations began, DOC Secretary Ed Wall announced that Westerhaus would be retiring in January. The FBI is now involved in that investigation.

This week Staab said Westerhaus and former superintendent John Ourada were relieved Dec. 3. She has not said whether they are still employed by the department.

The department also has completed a review of technology needs to ensure broader monitoring and recording, installation of additional video cameras in critical areas, and implementing a comprehensive camera upgrade project.

The department is purchasing body cameras to be worn by security staff in certain units, "which will be mandatory in recording all interactions with youth during acts of youth aggression, crisis intervention and other circumstances," the memo stated.

Other steps include:

Expediting investigative and disciplinary proceedings against staff identified as ever being involved in abuse, neglect or any other misconduct toward inmates.

Referring any allegations of abuse, misuse of authority or youth injury to the Secretary's office.

Coordinating with the Department of Justice's Office of Crime Victim Services and the DOC Office of Victim Services and Programs to assure that all youth and their families are afforded victim services as required or requested.

Assigning additional psychological staff to youth at the schools.

Assigning security supervisors from other DOC facilities on every shift to assist with institution oversight, respond to any incidents that occur, and address youth complaints. A supervisor was specifically assigned to monitor the safety of an individual youth who was injured.

Creating and implementing an aggressive training plan to bring all security staff to the highest standards, with an emphasis on professional communication skills, de-escalation, intermediate control methods, use of force, incident response protocols, evidence collection and documentation. The training is underway for the school supervisory staff, and will commence immediately thereafter for other staff.

Revising the youth complaint procedure to ensure that youth complaints are stored securely, retrieved only by the superintendent or designee and responded to promptly and appropriately.

Establishing a youth injury review panel that includes juvenile corrections administration, the Secretary's Office and the Office of Legal Counsel. The panel will review every injury to youth, regardless of how the injury was sustained.

Reviewing all cases in which use of force was ever utilized against any youth in custody to determine any staff patterns or physical locations where extra security is required.

Reviewing and updating all policies and procedures for documenting serious incidents and ensuring that all necessary notifications occur.

©2015 The Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wis.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.