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DOC: More Lincoln Hills staff resign, on leave amid abuse investigation
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DOC: More Lincoln Hills staff resign, on leave amid abuse investigation

From the Alleged abuses uncovered at Wisconsin youth prison series
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Lincoln Hills

The Department of Corrections is seeking nearly $3 million to make new hires at the Lincoln Hills School for Boys.

Three more Department of Corrections staff members who were on paid leave have resigned amid an investigation into allegations of abuse and official misconduct at the state’s youth prison in Irma.

That brings the total of staff resignations to five.

Paul Westerhaus, the state’s former administrator of juvenile corrections, and John Ourada, former superintendent of Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls juvenile facility in Irma, were “relieved of their administrative duties” on Dec. 3, according to a state Department of Corrections spokeswoman.

Three more workers at the juvenile facility who were on paid leave resigned this week, while three more were put on leave, DOC said, leaving 12 employees on paid leave as of Thursday.

Earlier this month, DOC said 14 employees were on leave after two had resigned.

DOC spokeswoman Joy Staab said late Thursday there was not an explanation available about the discrepancy in numbers.

A total of five employees who had been placed on leave amid the investigation have now resigned — one of whom had been on leave since March 2015.

The three staff members who resigned this week were Kaitlyn Knospe and Timothy Johnson, both youth counselors, and Nicole Daniecki, who worked as a social worker. Knospe and Daniecki had been on leave since December.

Johnson was placed on leave in March.

In October, authorities opened a John Doe investigation targeting a range of potential crimes — from child abuse to second-degree sexual assault to misconduct in public office.

The probe also seeks to determine whether crimes of child neglect, abuse of inmates, strangulation and suffocation, intimidation of victims, using pepper spray to cause bodily harm, intimidation of witnesses, tampering with public records and violating state or county laws governing institutions have occurred.

The investigation was opened after a nearly yearlong investigation by the state’s Department of Justice and now includes the Federal Bureau of Investigations.

Current and former staff members who have agreed to speak to the Wisconsin State Journal on the condition that they not be named because department policy prohibits staff from speaking to reporters without permission said a number of staff put on leave amid the investigation were given no explanation as to why.

They said the more relaxed approach to discipline and the competition to stay open led to supervisors not reporting all incidents in an effort to portray a safer environment than actually existed.

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