Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Gov. Walker is complicit in Open Records shadiness at DoC, Lincoln Hills

Documents shouldn’t be denied on the basis of incorrect wording

It is disturbingly evident that huge problems exist at the Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake youth correctional facilities in northern Wisconsin. Guards routinely engage in behavior with youths that would have resulted in disciplinary action even in an adult prison.

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The overall goal of these facilities is to rehabilitate these children so that they may successfully re-enter society. But the actions of those placed in charge of their care demonstrate that goal isn’t on their minds at all.

The latest escapade involves a guard who allowed inmates to fight with one another. The guard didn’t intervene, as he should have done, letting them duke-it-out in an area where security cameras couldn’t document the incident.

Other actions are similarly disturbing. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, in one instance guards restrained a youth and proceeded to douse them with pepper spray “for safety,” an action that is against accepted practices for the use of the spray.

Pepper spray seems to be, in general, over-used at the facilities:
Another entry describes an incident in which staff used pepper spray on an inmate who refused to go into a bedroom. In another case, staff deployed pepper spray into an inmate’s room after the inmate covered the window on the door to the room and became unresponsive.
As disturbing as these events are, they wouldn’t have come to light without an open records request from the Journal Sentinel. In fact, an original request for a log of incidents drew up none of these incidents since the publication had initially asked for a log of conduct reports relating to prison guards’ behaviors instead of a log incident reports.

For SEVEN MONTHS state Department of Corrections officials kept quiet about the separate log, knowing that what the Journal Sentinel had requested matched what they had in their hands, but not delivering the materials because the exact wording didn’t line up specifically with their request.

Christa Westerberg, who serves as vice president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, found that to be “absurd.” And I’m inclined to agree with her.

“The open records law does not require requesters to use magic words to get records,” she told the Journal Sentinel.

Open government requires agencies to comply with these open records requests -- not just to the letter of what’s being asked, but going beyond the specifically worded request itself.

A conduct report shouldn’t be denied to a newspaper simply because the DoC calls it an “incident report” instead -- it should be understood, by the governing agency, what’s being requested, and all efforts should be made to deliver. Documents shouldn’t be denied on the basis of incorrect wording, if it’s understood what’s being asked for in a general sense.

Gov. Scott Walker is complicit in this shadiness -- his Corrections department, after all, engaged in what appears to be purposeful deceit on open records requests. He is responsible for the infractions that occurred under his watch, and he is also responsible to remedy these problems so that they don’t occur in the future.

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