For years, Wisconsin officials knew or should have known about the thicket of problems at the state’s Lincoln Hills school and its sister facility on the same campus, Copper Lake School for Girls, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports. “It all went on in plain view of the Department of Corrections, but nobody at the Department of Corrections knew how juvenile corrections worked or how Lincoln Hills operated or what was going on,” said Troy Bauch, former union representative for workers there. “Nobody cared.”
The sweeping criminal probe, now nearly 2 years old, is examining allegations of prisoner abuse, child neglect, sexual assault, intimidation of witnesses and victims, strangulation, and tampering with public records. A separate internal investigation uncovered four incidents where inmates’ bones were broken. The crisis at Lincoln Hills is rooted in systematic breakdowns, lax management, confusion over policies, a lack of communication and chronic staff shortages. Officials trained staff improperly, failed to preserve video evidence, didn’t document serious incidents, and often shirked their duty to report matters to parents, police and social service agencies. The shortcomings intensified in 2011 when Gov. Scott Walker’s administration shut down two youth prisons to save $25 million a year. The move put all of the state’s serious teen offenders in one facility hundreds of miles from most of their families. “The entire climate went from mildly hellish to the ninth ring of hell,” said Timothy Johnson, a former guard.