A Racine County judge warned Gov. Scott Walker’s office in 2012 of severe safety issues at the state’s youth prison, and later the county stopped sending its juvenile offenders to the Irma facility that is now the subject of a criminal investigation.
The letter, sent to Walker in February 2012, appears at odds with 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.
Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said the governor was not shown the letter from Racine County Circuit Judge Richard Kreul.
“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,” 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 a 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.
In January 2015 the state Department of Justice opened a criminal investigation into alleged abuse at Lincoln Hills, with the allegations ranging from sexual assault to misconduct in public office. The Lincoln County District Attorney launched a John Doe probe into the allegations in October, and the FBI has joined the investigation.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel first reported Thursday on the 2012 Racine County letter and memo.
Walker’s office disclosed the documents Thursday after receiving questions about the incident, Patrick said.
The administration did not provide the letter or memo in its Dec. 17 response to a request from the Wisconsin State Journal under the state Public Records Law seeking any information Walker’s office received about potential abuse or misconduct at Lincoln Hills.
“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 Thursday.
Patrick said staff in Walker’s office referred the case to the Department of Corrections “which had already taken steps to address this incident.”
“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.”
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Patrick did not respond to a question about what kinds of issues are brought to Walker’s attention.
The Feb. 8, 2012, Racine County memo that accompanied Kreul’s letter to Walker 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, Ourada did not provide an explanation and the department was slow to provide information to Dragic, the memo said.
DOC spokeswoman Joy Staab said in an email Thursday that “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 youths and interviewed the victim regarding the allegations.
The inmate at fault was later 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.
The memo said Carpenter told Dragic she was “appalled” over how the matter was handled. The case worker said if a similar incident had happened in a group home or another correctional institution, all youths would have been removed immediately.
Staab said that 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.