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Evers throws union under the bus

By M.D. Kittle

MADISON — The Big Labor-backed Evers administration finds itself in a rare position: disputing a union.

In this case, effectively accusing AFSCME Council 32, the union that represents staff at the troubled Lincoln Hills youth prison, of lying.

In testimony before the Joint Finance Committee and in a petition of no confidence AFSCME reported that violent incidents at Lincoln Hills School for Boys exploded in 2020.

* Sexual misconduct incidents soared 75 percent

* Youth-staff battery increased 177 percent.

* Group disturbances were up 158 percent.

* Staff injuries spiked an astounding 4,700 percent.

* Staff vacancy rates are at 32 percent

DOC spokesman John Beard claims the union’s numbers are “refuted” by the DOC’s data.

“The publicly-available numbers on the Staff Assault dashboards show the numbers published below are inaccurate (except the vacancy rate, which is approximately 32% currently),” Beard wrote in an email to Empower Wisconsin.

Beard said DOC’s  Staff Assault dashboards for the Division of Juvenile Corrections currently only has data through February of Fiscal Year (FY) 2021. “(B)ut extrapolating the data for the remainder of the fiscal year would lead to a FY 2021 number that is approximately flat compared to the previous two fiscal years, whether looking at staff assaults as a whole or solely at battery incidents (the different things recorded as assaults are defined on the dashboards).”

AFSCME stands by the data. The union tells Empower Wisconsin the statistics were compiled by members of the local union. The data comes from the department’s J tracker system.

A Lincoln Hills employee and union representative presented the data to the Joint Finance Committee at a hearing in April. The troubling statistics were included on a Vote of No Confidence petition from AFSCME, which also represents employees at the adjacent Copper Lake School for Girls.

“This vote of “NO CONFIDENCE” recognizes the unparalleled failure of the current LHS and DJC administration to take necessary steps to maintain and promote an environment that is safe for employees and juvenile offenders, alike,” the petition declares.

The data compare the first six months of 2020 to the latter half of the year, and “represent an accurate depiction of the increase in the identified incident criteria,” AFSCME notes.

Lincoln Hills’ union rep asserts “there is NO CONFIDENCE by the undersigned that the current administration will improve or eradicate the violence, harassment, and abuse endured daily by staff.”

While the Department of Corrections insists the number of staff assaults is “approximately flat” compared to the previous two fiscal years, employees say the incidents of violence at Lincoln Hills have soared during Gov. Tony Evers’ tenure. At least one staff member likens the juvenile detention center to a “war zone.”

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