Union official: Unrest at prison sends 5 workers to hospital
MADISON (AP) -- Violence by inmates at Wisconsin's juvenile prison sent five staff members to the hospital Sunday night in apparently coordinated attacks that workers fear may have been practice for a full-fledged riot, a retired Lincoln Hills union steward said Tuesday.
Details about what happened Sunday were still being gathered by the former union leader, Doug Curtis, and Department of Corrections officials. Department spokesman Tristan Cook said Tuesday that he didn't have any confirmed information he could provide about what happened.
The Lincoln Hills-Copper Lake prison complex, which houses about 160 girls and boys in northern Wisconsin, have been under federal investigation for alleged prisoner abuse and child neglect for nearly three years. Numerous lawsuits have been filed. No one has been charged.
In the wake of reports of assaults at the juvenile prison, U.S. District Judge James Peterson on Tuesday ordered Gov. Scott Walker's administration and attorneys representing inmates who sued over disciplinary tactics at the prison to provide an update on conditions by Nov. 10.
The judge in July ordered the Department of Corrections to scale back its use of pepper spray, solitary confinement and shackles at the prison, saying they amounted to unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment.
But since then, a string of violent attacks on prison guards have been reported both by workers at the facilities and a pair of state lawmakers, who last week asked the judge to reverse his ruling. The lawmakers and prison workers say conditions have worsened since the court order because inmates feel emboldened.
Two weeks ago, a teacher was knocked out and sent to the hospital after being punched by an inmate. As for the attack Sunday, Curtis said he did not know the extent of the injuries, but that one employee may need knee surgery.
"It's on and on up there," the retired prison union leader said of the juvenile prison in Irma, about 30 miles north of Wausau. "It's happening almost daily."
Walker on Tuesday ordered Department of Corrections Secretary Jon Litscher, who just last week said the Lincoln Hills-Copper Lake prison complex was safe for both guards and inmates, to appoint an interim superintendent there while the search for a permanent one is ongoing. The position has been vacant since Sept. 1.
"We cannot allow individuals convicted of battery, armed robbery, and even murder to feel empowered to attack staff and each other in these institutions," Walker said in the letter ordering Litscher to make the appointment. "No matter the challenges, we must provide the men and women working in CLS/LHS with the tools they need to maintain order in the facilities and protect themselves and to protect the offenders held at these institutions."
Walker's administration told the judge earlier this month that it has not yet fully complied with the order because of ongoing "significant unrest" at the prison.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel first reported on Sunday's violence, saying a pair of inmate-on-staff assaults occurred including an inmate hurling pieces of a plastic chair at a guard.
Curtis said there was fear among staff that inmates were practicing for a larger disruption.