Juvenile Law Center

Juvenile and Criminal Justice

J.J. v. Litscher

Juvenile Law Center, with co-counsel ACLU of Wisconsin and Quarles & Brady, LLP, filed a federal civil rights class action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin against Wisconsin juvenile corrections officials and administrators of two correctional facilitates, the Lincoln Hills School for Boys and the Copper Lake School for Girls.

Collectively, the facilities hold approximately 165-180 boys and girls. Most are African-American youth from Milwaukee, which is 215 miles away from the facilities. Both facilities excessively use solitary confinement, restraints, and pepper spray on youth.

Approximately 15-20% of the youth population in these facilities are in solitary confinement, isolated for 22 to 23 hours per day in a seven by ten-foot cell. Youth are often sent to solitary for 30 to 60 days at a time, and many are forced to spend their one free hour outside of solitary “on the belt,” meaning that they are in handcuffs attached to a belt. Often they are also chained to a table. While in solitary, youth only get one hour of education per day and are even denied therapeutic programs that are supposed to help rehabilitate them. Officers at these facilities routinely use “Bear Mace” and other pepper sprays on youth for nonviolent infractions. The burning and temporary blindness can last for days, and guards fail to appropriately help youth who have been pepper sprayed.

These practices are serious violations of the youth’s constitutional rights, including their rights to substantive due process, as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and their right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment, as guaranteed by the Eighth Amendment.

Juvenile Law Center, along with co-counsel, filed a motion for preliminary injunction in order to provide immediate relief to Wisconsin’s youth. Jessica Feierman, Associate Director of Juvenile Law Center, Laurence Dupuis, Legal Director of ACLU of Wisconsin, and Rachel Graham, Associate at Quarles & Brady, argued at the preliminary injunction hearing that the harmful, degrading, and unconstitutional practices daily perpetrated by the facilities are causing significant and lasting harm on the youth entrusted to their care. In an oral ruling on June 23, 2017, Western District Judge Peterson found that the use of solitary confinement, pepper spray and restraints at the juvenile facilities violate kids’ constitutional rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. The court stated that young people have a constitutional right to rehabilitation, and it was being thwarted by these practices.

The court gave the parties two weeks to submit proposed terms of an injunction based upon its ruling, and then issued a preliminary injunction on July 10. The injunction requires sweeping changes to facility practices, including barring the use of solitary confinement for minor infractions or non-violent offenses, restricting placement of youth with mental health conditions in solitary, significantly limiting the permitted periods of isolation, and ensuring that youth in solitary receive education, rehabilitative programming, health services, and meaningful time out of their cells. The injunction also significantly curtails the use of pepper spray and mechanical restraints, and it outlaws the facility’s practice of tethering youth to fixed objects, such as tables, when they are out of their cells.

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Pleadings

COMPLAINT

Amended Complaint, April 17, 2017

PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION

Brief in Support - April 19, 2017

Brief in Opposition - May 26, 2017

Reply Brief - June 9, 2017

Transcript of Hearing - June 23, 2017

Preliminary Injunction - July 10, 2017

CLASS CERTIFICATION

Brief in Support - January 24, 2017

Brief in Opposition - May 5, 2017

Reply Brief - May 19, 2017

Further Reading

"Pushing Back on the Barbaric Use of Solitary Confinement," The Editorial Board, The New York Times, 8/5/2017

"Judge Issues Injuction To Reduce Solitary Confinement At Youth Prisons," Wisconsin Public Radio, NPR, 7/10/2017

"Judge orders changes at Wisconsin youth prisions by next week," Scott Bauer, ABC News, 7/10/2017

"ACLU of Wisconsin and Juvenile Law Center Sue Over Alleged Inhumane Treatment in Juvenile Detention Centers," Emma Sarran Webster, Teen Vogue, 1/25/2017

"Wisconsin Juvenile Facilities Sued by Juvenile Law Center, State ACLU Over Solitary Confinement," John Holland, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, 1/24/2017

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