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Teen Inmates Sue Wisconsin: Pepper Spraying, Solitary

Several teen inmates filed a lawsuit on Jan. 23 against Wisconsin juvenile corrections officials and administrators for alleged excessive solitary confinement, restraints, and pepper spray use on the youngsters.

The teens are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin and the Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center, notes the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The lawsuit says jail officials kept a 14-year-old boy in solitary confinement for almost eight months, and used pepper spray -- a chemical weapon -- almost 200 times at the Lincoln Hills School for Boys and at the Copper Lake School for Girls over a period of 10 months.

The Juvenile Law Center notes on its website that most of the teens are black: 

[T]he facilities hold approximately 165-180 boys and girls. Most are African-American youth from Milwaukee, which is 215 miles away from the facilities ... 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.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported in December 2016 that there is a two-year-old criminal investigation of both facilities for "allegations of prisoner abuse, child neglect, sexual assault, intimidation of witnesses and victims, strangulation and tampering with public records."

Rachel Graham, one of the lawyers representing the teens, described the alleged jail conditions in the lawsuit:

The state routinely subjects these youth to unlawful solitary confinement, mechanical restraints and pepper spraying. Prior to state and federal raids on the facility at the end of 2015, staff also regularly physically abused youth in the facility ... The segregation cells are dirty and smell like sweat and urine.

United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture Juan E. Mendez said in 2011 that subjecting juveniles to solitary confinement may be considered torture:  "Considering the severe mental pain or suffering solitary confinement may cause, it can amount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment when used as a punishment, during pre-trial detention, indefinitely or for a prolonged period, for persons with mental disabilities or juveniles."

Wisconsin Department of Corrections spokesman Tristan Cook stated on Jan. 23 that his agency would be reviewing the lawsuit.

Sources: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (2), UN News CenterJuvenile Law Center / Photo credit: Wisconsin Department of Corrections

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