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Wisconsin pays $5M to settle more juvenile prison lawsuits, as Assembly votes to extend deadline for closing one

WIZM staff

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MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin officials said Thursday they have agreed to pay nearly $5 million to three former inmates at the state’s juvenile prison complex, raising the legal bills for problems there to more than $25 million.

Meanwhile, the state Assembly passed a bill extending the deadline for closing Wisconsin’s troubled youth prison near Irma.

The Legislature overwhelmingly passed a law last year that requires the Department of Corrections to close the prison by Jan. 1, 2021 and create smaller state- and county-run facilities for juvenile offenders. The prison has been dogged by allegations of guard-on-prisoner abuse.

Republican Rep. Michael Schraa introduced a bill that would keep the prison open until July 1, 2021. The Assembly approved the bill Thursday on a voice vote with no debate. The proposal goes next to the Senate.

But Gov. Tony Evers says that timetable is too aggressive and it will take longer to get the smaller facilities built.

As for the settlements, they include $1.95 million apiece to Laera Reed and Paige Ray-Cluney, two young Iowa women who alleged physical abuse at the Copper Lake facility, where they were sent after Iowa closed its school for troubled girls. They also include $875,000 for a Jacob Bailey, a former inmate at the Lincoln Hills facility for boys who suffered a broken arm at the hands of guards in 2014.

John Sandy, an attorney for the two young women, said they were held in isolation for 23 hours a day for weeks at a time in urine-stained cells when they were there in 2015-16.

“They had little to no educational instruction or human interaction,” he said. “Their severe isolation caused (post-traumatic stress disorder), depression and led to numerous suicide attempts. They lost all hope. Today is, in part, a reclamation of hope.”

The women still have pending lawsuits against Iowa human services officials for sending them to the Wisconsin facility without adequate monitoring.

Bailey’s mother, Lisa Bailey, has said she believes her son’s treatment at Lincoln Hills contributed to him winding up in an adult prison.

“He learned a lot from that place,” she said. “A lot of bad stuff.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that the settlements wrap up some of the last of the lawsuits over Copper Lake and Lincoln Hills, which have been mired in litigation and investigations for years and remain under court supervision.