MADISON – A group of two dozen teenagers locked up at the state’s Northwoods juvenile prison smashed windows and roamed the facility’s grounds for hours last month, state officials said Tuesday.
Conditions in recent years have improved at Lincoln Hills School for Boys, but the August incident was a reminder that problems can still erupt there.
During the hourslong incident, a teen struck a staff member and the group broke 15 windows, causing $3,300 in damage, according to the Department of Corrections.
Ron Hermes, the state’s juvenile corrections administrator, said the state would make it more difficult to smash windows at the prison and take other steps to contain future disturbances. In addition, workers at the prison were trained last month in behavioral motivation techniques that Hermes said would help prevent future incidents.
The state has paid more than $25 million in settlements and legal costs in recent years over problems there. Lawmakers from both parties have agreed to close the facility by July but also acknowledged they won’t meet that deadline because they have not started building replacement facilities to house teen offenders.
According to prison officials, the latest incident began about 10:45 a.m. Aug. 1 when eight teens broke away from those escorting them across the prison grounds after a recreation period.
Using basketballs and debris, they broke out the windows of living units, allowing others to get into the prison yard. Some climbed on the roofs of living units, as they have in past incidents.
The size of the group grew to as large as 24 before guards and law enforcement officials put a stop to the incident more than six hours after it started.
Of those, nine were involved in property damage, according to Klint Trevino, the superintendent of Lincoln Hills.
The guards used force against the teens at times, but the Department of Corrections did not provide details about the type of force used.
In addition to the staff member who was struck, six prison employees and 15 teens suffered injuries. Most injuries were minor, but one teen was taken to a medical facility because of a severe cut on his arm from breaking a window.
During the incident, the teens made verbal threats against the guards, according to the Department of Corrections.
Afterward, the teens gave a variety of reasons for acting out, including boredom and conflicts with staff members They said they had partially planned the disturbance, but it got out of hand.
In response to the incident, prison officials said they would change recreation times so fewer groups of teens are out of their living units at a time. They will also secure basketballs and other recreation equipment when not in use and conduct more ground searches to pick up debris that can be used to cause damage.
As a temporary measure, safety screens will be placed on windows, making them more difficult to break. Security glass that is more difficult to break will be installed next year, according to Hermes.
Another project is meant to make it more difficult to get onto roofs.
Contact Patrick Marley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @patrickdmarley.