Lincoln Hills

This aerial view shows the campus of the state’s Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake youth prisons in Lincoln County.

RACINE COUNTY — A Racine County judge warned Gov. Scott Walker in 2012 of severe safety issues at the state’s youth prison before the county stopped sending its juvenile offenders to the Irma facility.

The letter, sent to Walker in February 2012, contradicts Walker’s previous statements that he was made aware of allegations of abuse at Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls within the past year.

“Almost 50 years in the legal system and I’ve seen and heard a lot, so (I’m) not naive as to what ‘prison’ is all about. But the indifference in this sordid tale is absolutely inexcusable,” Racine Circuit Court Judge Richard Kreul wrote to Walker. He copied then-Lincoln Hills superintendent Paul Westerhaus.

“I’ll be thinking long and hard before sending another youth to that place!” the letter concludes.

The “sordid tale” involved an alleged inmate-on-inmate sexual assault and how the juvenile detention center’s staff responded to it. The allegation and response was detailed in three-page memo written by a Racine County Human Services Department official that accompanied the letter.

Racine County soon stopped sending juvenile offenders to the prison.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel first reported on the 2012 letter and memo.

The assault

The Feb. 8, 2012 memo said an inmate was forced to perform oral sex on another inmate after being threatened on Jan. 13, 2012 and was physically assaulted until becoming unconscious during the incident.

The memo indicates the victim was not taken to the emergency room by prison staff until after a prison basketball game was over — three hours after the assault took place. The victim also was placed in a special cottage for disruptive inmates a day after the incident, according to the memo.

When Racine County Human Services case worker Dan Dragic questioned Lincoln Hills psychologist Paul Hesse about the delay in medical care, Hesse said basketball was a “big deal” at Lincoln Hills.

“Dan, what did you want us to do, stop the game?” Hesse is quoted in the memo as saying to the case worker.

Officials from Racine County, where the victim was from, law enforcement or child protective services weren’t notified of the incident by prison officials, despite being mandated by law, according to the memo.

When Racine County Human Services officials learned of the incident and questioned then-Deputy Superintendent John Ourada why the incident was handled in this manner and, Ourada did not provide an explanation and the department was slow to provide information to Dragic.

The letter and memo were provided to the State Journal from Walker’s office after receiving questions about the incident, according to Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick.

The State Journal had filed records requests for any information Walker’s office received about potential abuse or misconduct but Walker’s office did not include the memo or letter in their Dec. 17 response.

“As this record relates to an isolated youth-on-youth incident, it was not flagged in previous requests for records related to reports of abuses and misconduct by Lincoln Hills School staff,” Patrick said in a Thursday email about why it was not provided on Dec. 17.

Patrick said Walker was not shown the letter from Kreul.

“As I’m sure you’re aware, many issues are raised to our office,” Patrick said. “Policy staff frequently work with agencies on these issues to help ensure they are addressed.”

Patrick said staff in Walker’s office referred the case the Department of Corrections “which had already taken steps to address this incident.”

State response

DOC spokeswoman Joy Staab said in an email Thursday “front-line staff failed to follow existing DOC protocols in reporting the allegations of sexual assault to local law enforcement and Racine County.”

She said the staff there immediately separated the youth and interviewed the victim regarding their allegations. The inmate at fault was convicted of battery and fourth-degree sexual assault.

Staab said then-administrator of the Division of Juvenile Corrections Margaret Carpenter and her successor Cari Taylor investigated the handling of the incident and found that front-line staff had not followed DOC policies and procedures to report the incident.

In the memo, Carpenter told Dragic she was “appalled” as to how the matter was handled. The case worker said if a similar incident had happened in a group home or another correctional institution, all youth would have been removed immediately.

Staab said after the incident, DOC provided additional training to staff “to reinforce the importance of reporting information on a timely basis.”

She said this included clarifying the roles and responsibilities for medical and security staff in responding to sexual assaults so they clearly understand their roles during such an incident.

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