Lincoln Hills Update, Fines For Pollution, New Youth Activism

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Documents from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources show fines for polluters hit a 30-year-low last year. Our guest argues this is bad for the state’s environment and economy. We also get an update on the federal investigation into the Lincoln Hills School for Boys, and learn how today’s activists are using social media to support their causes.

Featured in this Show

  • Ex-DNR Secretary Says Agency Not Doing Enough To Enforce Wisconsin's Pollution Laws

    A former Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources secretary says the agency under Gov. Scott Walker’s administration isn’t doing enough to enforce the state’s pollution laws.

    There’s been a major drop in fines for pollution in the state, according to information released by the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation. According to the numbers leaked from a state source, fines for pollution dropped by about 80 percent last year — the lowest level in at least a decade. Walker and state officials have said the reduction in fines is part of an effort to work with potential polluters to fix problems before they require enforcement.

    George Meyer, the federation’s executive director, who previously served as DNR secretary under former Gov. Tommy Thompson, said Walker’s claims don’t add up. He said it’s always been the mission of state officials to work with businesses to make sure they’re compliant with environmental codes.

    “It’s incredible to believe that the efforts to work with businesses dropped serious violations by that much in the case of a year,” he said, adding that the state Department of Justice isn’t doing enough either.

    Meyer said he isn’t talking about minor violations either. The violations could range from water contaminations from farms, air pollution and perhaps most seriously, large municipal waste treatment plans and other industrial sources.

    “These are major cases that often by themselves would be $50,000 to $60,000 type forfeitures or fines,” said Meyer. “You need to have enforcement of those because it provides deterrents to others from being more lax or eventually violating the law.”

    This kind of lack in enforcement is also bad for business, said Meyer.

    “If in fact you don’t keep a level playing field between the 99.5 percent of the businesses in the state that do a good job — and some do an excellent job in compliance with the law — and those bad actors that cut the corner, cut their cost, and they are able to outcompete the good companies that are complying with all the state and federal regulations,” he said.

    Meyer said he still has a lot of questions in trying to figure out why there’s been such a dramatic decrease in violations, suspecting that it could be a lack of environmental inspections among other possibilities.

  • New Superintendent At Lincoln Hills School For Boys In Northern Wisconsin Had Poor Review In Earlier Job

    The new superintendent at Lincoln Hills School For Boys in northern Wisconsin is coming into the institution at a crucial moment. The facility and its sister institution, the Copper Lake School for Girls, are both facing federal investigations for the last 16 months over allegations of prisoner abuse, child neglect, sexual assault and other crimes. Federal agents are also investigating whether there was a pattern of civil rights violations against inmates.

    Wendy Peterson is the new head of Lincoln Hills. Prior to that, she was the deputy superintendent and before that, she was effectively the principal, or the head of the educational program at the school. Prior to joining Lincoln Hills staff, Peterson worked at Northcentral Technical College for several years.

    Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Patrick Marley asked for her personnel file from Northcentral Technical College to find out more about her work history. What he found out was that she had been demoted after her boss found that she didn’t have effective communication skills. Her superior cut her pay by $14,000 and told her that if she didn’t improve her ability to communicate with her superiors, she would face further job actions, potentially even termination. She quit about two weeks later and went on to work with Lincoln Hills.

    “Nothing we can see did Lincoln Hills ever do a reference check with Northcentral,” Marley said.

    Peterson was principal at Lincoln Hills for several years, where she had clashes with some of the staff. When she was up for the deputy superintendent position at the youth prison, there was an effort to stop her promotion.

    “There was a petition drive among the employees that they submitted to the Secretary of the Department of Corrections at the time, Ed Wall, saying that they did not think she should be promoted into that deputy position,” Marley explained.

    He added that the department went ahead and gave her the promotion anyway.

    Just recently the Department of Corrections promoted Peterson to superintendent. John Ourada was formerly superintendent, but he retired abruptly in December when raids were happening on the facility. Then, Department of Corrections official Wayne Olson was put in charge of Lincoln Hills in January. He unexpectedly stepped down in early April.

    The reporter said there’s not a lot of information about why Peterson was selected as the new head of Lincoln Hills. He said his guess was that the Department of Corrections wanted to find someone to fill the position quickly, with Lincoln facing the ongoing federal investigation.

    “She is someone who has been at the school, familiar with the operations at the school, been in top level positions for a number of years. They’ve had a lot of changeover at that school, and the last person they put in there only stayed around for three months so they might have been looking for some kind of stability,” Marley speculated.

    He clarified that this was only his guess because the Department of Corrections officials haven’t explained why they thought Peterson was the top candidate for this position.

    Just before Marley published his story about Peterson, the Department of Corrections officials said they stand by their decision to put her in position as the head of Lincoln Hills.

    “They see her as the best person to enact the reforms that they’re trying to put in place up there, as they try to make some significant changes at the school,” he said.

    The federal investigation is a dual investigation with the FBI looking into criminal allegations and the U.S. Department of Justice looking into patterns of civil rights violations. Marley said he hadn’t heard directly from the FBI about their timeline, but he guessed it would only take a matter of months before the end of the investigation.

  • Update On News From Lincoln Hills School For Boys

    Over the last several weeks there have been lots of new and troubling reports coming out of the Lincoln Hills School for Boys, including that an inmate was given the wrong medication twice and that the incoming superintendent has a checkered employment record. We talk to a reporter who’s been tracking the story about the latest news and the status of the federal investigation for allegations of prisoner abuse, child neglect, and other crimes.

  • Wildlife Group: Wisconsin Not Pursuing Environmental Enforcement

    The director of a wildlife group makes the case that Wisconsin’s DNR and Department of Justice aren’t doing enough to enforce pollution laws–pointing toward data that shows a significant drop in prosecutions.

  • How New Media Is Changing Youth Political Activism

    First, young people have long been criticized for not being civically engaged enough. People argue that millennials vote less or prefer to watch satirical news programs like “The Daily Show” over actual news.

    But a new book called By Any Media Necessary: The New Youth Activism argues that youth political engagement hasn’t necessarily declined, it has just changed. Young people with a political cause have used Facebook, Twitter, viral videos, memes, and pop culture to talk about issues that matter to them — from the Invisible Children campaign to the Harry Potter Alliance which fights for human rights in the name of fantasy written by J.K. Rowling.

Episode Credits

  • Rob Ferrett Host
  • Veronica Rueckert Host
  • Rob Ferrett Producer
  • Amanda Magnus Producer
  • Haleema Shah Producer
  • George Meyer Guest
  • Patrick Marley Guest
  • Sangita Shresthova Guest