Records: Walker told of juvenile prison problems last year

Gov. Scott Walker was informed about issues at a juvenile prison in northern Wisconsin more than a year ago, according to records released by his office.

Documents released by the governor’s office show he received a letter from a Division of Juvenile Corrections administrator in November 2014 that raised potential concerns at Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake School for Girls. The administrator raised questions about the amount of time youth were spending in their rooms, rather than classrooms, because of staff vacancies at the facility. The letter also discussed information that had been forwarded from Milwaukee juvenile justice system officials “which included limited details and specifics” about issues at the schools.

“The Office of Special Operations within the Secretary’s office, which handles high level internal investigations is conducting an independent investigation into the concerns,” the letter sent by administrator Cari Taylor said. “I ask that any judgement be withheld on any of the information or misinformation that is circulating as this can have significant and unintended consequences to the process, investigation and outcome.”

The records show the governor’s office received communications in June and July alleging staff at the schools abused inmates.

A former corrections officer at Lincoln Hills contacted the governor in July alleging a security problem at the facility.

“You are running for the highest office in this country and you have staff who are being assaulted, youth who are being assaulted, doors being broken, windows broken,” said retired officer Kevin McCarthy.

Now former juvenile corrections administrator Paul Westerhaus responded to McCarthy’s concerns through a letter.

“We are aware of some of the challenges and take them seriously,” Westerhaus wrote. “We have known each other Kevin, for a long time. Times have changed since we worked together. Like you, we do not want to see anyone get hurt and will do what we can to keep everyone safe.”

Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said the DOC placed staffers on leave after learning about possible mistreatment of inmates late last year. She says he was briefed by the Wisconsin Department of Justice on Dec. 2, and later that day he ordered the DOC secretary to take “aggressive action” against prison staff involved in any wrongdoing at the Lincoln Hills School for Boys in Lincoln County.

“We will continue to monitor this issue closely and will make sure all steps are taken to hold every individual involved in wrongdoing accountable and to keep the youth and staff safe,” Patrick said in an email.