MADISON, Wis. — State prosecutors took the unusual step of acknowledging Wisconsin's troubled youth prison is too dangerous for juveniles as they argued to move a teen into the adult system for his own protection, according to court documents released Wednesday.
Racine County Circuit Judge John S. Jude agreed that the prison was too dangerous and waived the boy into the adult system last February. The 2nd District Court of Appeals affirmed Jude's decision Wednesday.
"I never thought I would say this, that a 16-year-old would be safer in the adult system than the juvenile justice system," Jude said at the waiver hearing, according to the documents released Wednesday. Racine County case manager Candy Bowman testified that her department has "put somewhat of a moratorium" on sending juvenile offenders to Lincoln Hills. Racine County did not immediately respond to an inquiry Wednesday about what, if any, moratorium exists.
The Lincoln Hills juvenile prison in Irma has been plagued by allegations of prisoner abuse, child neglect and sexual abuse assault. Racine County Circuit Judge Richard Kreul in 2012 wrote a letter alerting Gov. Scott Walker to a case in which a Lincoln Hills inmate was forced to perform oral sex on his roommate, beaten unconscious and not given medical attention for three hours. The state began an investigation into allegations of abuse at the facility in 2015. The FBI has since taken over the investigation.
No one has been charged with any crimes. Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel told The Associated Press last month it's possible his office might re-launch its investigation and charge someone in connection with the alleged abuses. The Wisconsin Department of Corrections has had its own investigation into the issues at Lincoln Hills for more than a year. Corrections Department spokesman Tristan Cook said the agency has made "significant and wide-reaching reforms" on juvenile corrections, including appointing new leadership, increasing training for staff, requiring body cameras for security staff and enhancing medical and health services to inmates.
The teen in the appeals court case released Wednesday was accused of sexually assaulting a fifth-grader. The teen argued Jude improperly considered news coverage that wasn't part of the evidence and out-of-court information about Lincoln Hills. The juvenile's lawyer did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The appellate court found the judge should not have considered the news reports but that he properly weighed the seriousness of the crime and how little time the teen would have had left for treatment in the juvenile system since he was 14 months away from turning 18.