Juvenile Detention Center Staff Speak Out Against New Pepper Spray Policy


Youth counselors at the Lincoln Hills juvenile detention center say new policies for handling violent assaults put both inmates and staff at risk.

Two weeks ago, the Lincoln Hills Superintendent Peter Westerhaus sent a memo to staff informing them that only supervisors would be able to carry and use pepper spray to respond to inmate assaults against staff or other inmates.

Troy Bauch is the spokesman for the union representing guards, also known as counselors. He says there have been 40 assaults on staff there in the last 18 months, especially by girls at the new girls detention center. He says the center is understaffed and it’s the wrong time to change the policy without discussing it with staff first.

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A statement from Corrections Secretary Ed Wall says recent national studies have shown that only seven states still allow the use of chemical spray in juvenile settings. Jim Moeser of the Wisconsin Council for Children and Families says the policy shift fits in with a nationwide trend.

“[There’s] a lot more information about trauma and impact on kids in ways to prevent and intervene in problem behaviors in a much less combative way,” says Moeser.

But Moeser says the Lincoln Hills staff has a point that the policy change should include training in new methods to deal with assaults. Staff at the institution has not yet received that training. The union says staff concerns have been ignored since their public employee union lost the power to bargain policy changes like this one.