MADISON, Wis. — The head of Wisconsin’s troubled youth prison is stepping down, forcing state officials to launch a search for the facility’s fourth superintendent in less than three years.
Department of Corrections officials said Thursday that Lincoln Hills/Copper Lake Superintendent Wendy Peterson asked to move into the prison’s education director role because the superintendent job was taking her away from her family.
As education director, a position she held previously, she’ll be able to realize her “passion” for working with children and teachers again, she said.
Peterson will start her new position on Sunday. Deputy Superintendent Lori McAllister will run the prison while Corrections searches for a permanent superintendent.
Law enforcement officials have been probing allegations of prisoner abuse at the facility outside Irma since 2015. The FBI took over the investigation from state agents in February 2016. No one has been charged, a number of officials have resigned, including former DOC Secretary Ed Wall and former Lincoln Hills/Copper Lake Superintendent John Ourada.
Wayne Olson took over as superintendent in January 2016 but quit after just four months, citing family reasons. Peterson took over in April 2016, and several former inmates have sued since then, challenging conditions. A federal judge in Madison ordered the prison in July to drastically reduce the use of solitary confinement, pepper spray and shackles.
Current DOC Secretary Jon Litscher told the state Assembly’s Corrections Committee in February that the prison has introduced specialized training and body cameras for guards, expanded psychological services for inmates and has pushed to reduce solitary confinement.
Division of Juvenile Corrections Administrator John Paquin announced Peterson’s transfer in a memo to staff Thursday, thanking her for implementing changes that have improved security and safety during a “time of significant change across the institution.”
But U.S. District Judge James Peterson questioned in June why Peterson got the superintendent’s job, given her lack of experience in running a youth prison, and said state officials have demonstrated a “callous indifference” to the harm solitary confinement, pepper spray and shackles can do to children. He said Ted Kaczynski, a convicted killer known as the Unabomber, has less restrictive solitary confinement than kids at Lincoln Hills/Copper Lakes.
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