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Wisconsin agrees to curtail confinement of youth at prisons

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Lincoln Hills School for Boys

MADISON, Wis. — The Wisconsin Department of Corrections promised in a court filing on Friday to curtail the use of solitary confinement, restraints such as shackles and use of pepper spray at juvenile prisons following mounting criticism about mistreatment of youth.

U.S. District Judge James Peterson had set a Friday deadline for attorneys to spell out how they would comply with his order to reduce the use of the practices at the Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake juvenile prisons.

In the filing, attorneys for the Department of Corrections and those representing past and current inmates submitted to the court a possible preliminary injunction setting out the terms of an agreement. It spells out some agreements but several sections of the proposal say that the parties were unable to agree.

The judge ordered attorneys to craft a plan that would reduce solitary confinement, narrowly define when pepper spray can be used and use shackles on inmates only when safety warrants it.

The proposed agreement covers all three of those issues. It says that state officials will not put a juvenile in solitary confinement or other restrictive housing unless the youth caused or attempted physical harm to another person. The state also agreed not to use chemical agents such as pepper spray unless a youth is hurting someone. On the use of shackles, the state said it agrees “that the practice should be eliminated as soon as possible.”

In several cases, the Department of Corrections asked for more time to make the changes so that it could train staff.

It was not clear when the judge would rule on the proposed agreement. Larry Dupuis, legal director of the ACLU of Wisconsin, said the proposed agreement was a good step forward and he hoped that the state would “ultimately eliminate the use of solitary confinement and pepper spray and seriously curtail restraint use.”